I’m honoured to have two of my articles featured in the Seaside News this month. You can find them on page sixteen of the magazine.
This is Lilly of the Valley. A French friend informs me that it’s a tradition to share this at the beginning of May to wish friends good luck and happiness throughout the coming year, so I’m happy to share it with you 🙂
We are making good progress with the audiobook version of Digging in the Dirt and hope to publish in early June. Meanwhile, here’s the cover.
The May 2020 issue of Mom’s Favorite Reads is now available to read and download FREE 🙂
Sam visits the Rhymney Valley in Looking for Rosanna Mee.
Lightly populated for centuries, the valley developed through heavy industry – iron, steel and coal.
Local legend states that a giant harassed the fairies. They asked an owl for help and he slew the giant. As the fairies burned the giant’s body the scorched earth revealed the coal.
This is a letter written by Captain Selwyn Jepson of the SOE recommending Jacqueline Nearne for service in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. It’s pure fiction. For this letter to be authentic, Jepson should have known Jacqueline for at least two years (he’d known her for two weeks). Prudence Macfie of the FANY wrote a similar letter, even though she‘d known Jacqueline for a shorter period than Jepson.
Why the deception? The FANY was used as a cover for female SOE agents and in Jacqueline, Jepson saw someone who could serve the SOE well. His judgement proved correct. Jacqueline served the SOE with distinction and was awarded numerous honours after the war.
Local views this week, from Ogmore, Kenfig and the Goylake River.
Wishing you a Happy 75th VE Day Anniversary.
Our ancestors gave so much, including their lives, in the fight against fascism. We owe it to them, ourselves and our children to ensure that the current generation of fascists with their racist views, false smiles and pathological lies do not triumph.
Our ancestors gave their lives for a better world. It is up to us, everyone of us, to make their dream a reality.
Women of Courage Heroines of SOE
Odette Victoria Wilen was born on 25 April 1919. She served the SOE in France under the code name Sophie. Odette’s experiences in France read like a romantic adventure novel, with tragic twists and turns, and a fairytale ending.
Born of a French mother and a Czech father, who served as an RAF officer, Odette became a naturalised British citizen in 1931. In June 1940, she married Dennis Wilen, a Finnish RAF pilot instructor. Sadly, he died during a flying accident in 1942.
In April 1943, Odette joined the SOE. At her request, she trained as a wireless operator and was parachuted into France on 11 April 1944 to join the Stationer network in Auvergne.
Odette’s organiser, Maurice Southgate, believed that she had not received sufficient training, which was symptomatic of the SOE’s desperate need to send wireless operators into the field. Subsequently, she was replaced.
Meanwhile, through a network of contacts, which included fellow agents Pearl Witherington and Virginia Hall, Odette transferred to the Labourer network where she worked in Paris as a courier alongside Marcel Leccia, who became her fiancé. Sadly, through betrayal the Gestapo captured Marcel and two of his colleagues. In keeping with their barbaric code, the Gestapo murdered Marcel in September 1944.
Odette was saved from the Gestapo by Pearl Witherington and by Marcel’s sister, Mimi, who warned her of their impending threat. After trying to secure Marcel’s release, Odette fled Paris by bicycle before following the well-warn escape route over the Pyrenees into Spain, then on to Gibraltar and Britain, arriving in August 1944.
During her exfiltration, Odette met the head of the Spanish escape network, Santiago Strugo Garay. Although they spent only three days together, Odette must have left a strong impression on Santiago because at the end of the war, he left Spain to meet up with her in Britain. The couple married in March 1946 and later settled in Buenos Aires.
Odette and Santiago produced two children. He died in 1997 while she died in 2015, aged 96.
As ever, thank you for your interest and support.
PS Apologies for any formatting errors, these are a result of WordPress’ increasingly unreliable platform.
A busy week with audiobooks with five in production: Smoke and Mirrors, Stardust, Digging in the Dirt, Boston and The Devil and Ms Devlin, all in the Sam Smith Mystery Series. It’s always fascinating to hear how narrators interpret your words and it’s always great to work with other creative people.
As part of the Authors Give Back sale where authors support readers during this difficult time Val Tobin is offering her books for free and at 60% off the recommended retail price.
Nothing is more glorious than finding a book that keeps you turning pages to discover what happens next. Val Tobin’s stories will do just that. Take a journey with characters who will inspire you, intrigue you, and entice you to read just one more chapter.
Earlier this week, I lost my Internet connection. An engineer was due today, so yesterday evening I decided to tidy the living room to make space for him. And guess what I found? In a corner inaccessible to man or beast, the router plug was sitting on the floor. I plugged it in and within ten minutes our Internet was restored.
So, how did the plug get on to the floor? As unlikely as it sounds it seems that one of my children reached for an Easter egg, knocked a small 5.1 music speaker off the shelf, the speaker landed on the plug and knocked it out of the socket. Throughout this a light remained on the router – it’s fed by two sockets – and the corner is inaccessible except for the plug sockets so no one thought to look there.
I told the engineer there was no need to call because I’d fixed the problem. Doubtless, he was impressed. However, I didn’t tell him how I did it 😉
My current reading list for Eve’s War
Madame Fourcade was an amazing woman. Forget de Gaulle, Madame Fourcade was the real leader of the French Resistance. She was the one who rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in when it came to fighting the fascists.
Most of my Eve’s War series is set in Brittany, hence the need to top up my knowledge of that region.
After the war, Ann-Marie Walters established a career in literature and her book is the best written account of an SOE agent’s experiences in France.
“I’m very nervous, but patient. It’s a funny mixture really and you need that for radio work. You need the patience to do the coding and decoding. You need the resourcefulness of nervousness to be able to decide to go on if you think somebody’s listening in (the Gestapo used to listen in to transmissions in vans disguised as Red Cross vehicles) or to cut off and ask for another sked (transmission schedule).” – Yvonne Cormeau.
Yvonne was the ‘fastest finger in France‘. She transmitted Morse code messages at a rate of twenty words a minute (the average was twelve words a minute) and she sent more messages than any other female SOE wireless operator.
In 1944, SOE agent Anne-Marie Walters, pictured below, had a narrow escape when travelling by train to Condom via Tarbes. A Gestapo officer approached to search her cases, which contained small arms and demolition equipment. However, a young woman with two babies, unknown to Anne-Marie, but sensing danger, created a fuss over the Gestapo searching her bags. In the commotion, the Gestapo officer didn’t search Anne-Marie’s cases. When he left the carriage, the young woman offered Anne-Marie a smile of understanding. In that moment she had saved Anne-Marie’s life.
On another occasion, Anne-Marie found herself at a bus stop facing a snap search. While one fascist inspected her (false) documents another searched her handbag and pulled out a crumpled ball of toilet paper. Anne-Marie blushed at the sight and the fascist returned the toilet paper to her handbag. That toilet paper contained thirty coded messages. The BBC broadcast these messages at set times during the day. They carried instructions for the Resistance, informing them of arms drops via parachute, details of other networks and most famously of all the timing of the D-Day invasion. The code for that message was the first stanza of Paul Verlaine’s poem “Chanson d’automne”. The first part of the stanza, Les sanglots longs des violons de l’automne (“the long sobs of the violins of autumn”) indicated that the invasion would begin within 24 hours; the second, Blessent mon cœur d’une langueur monotone (“wound my heart with a monotonous languor”) was the specific call to action.
A memorial to the SOE agents of the Wheelwright network in Lapeyrade, Landes. Yvonne Cormeau, Anne-Marie Walters and Yvonne Baseden have featured on my website.
Pictures taken near my home in South Wales this week: Kenfig, Mawdlam, Cefn Cribwr, the Goylake River, Kenfig and Ballas
Women of Courage Heroines of SOE
SOE agent Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne was born on 15 March 1921 in London to an English father, John, and a Spanish mother, Marie. She was the youngest of four children while her elder sister, Jaqueline, and her brother, Francis, also became SOE agents.
In 1923, the family moved to France where Eileen became fluent in French. After the German invasion in 1940, Eileen and Jacqueline followed the well-worn path to London via Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Gibraltar and Glasgow, while their parents and brothers remained in Grenoble.
In Britain, the SOE soon identified Eileen’s talents. Initially, she worked as a signals operator decoding secret messages, often written in invisible ink, received from agents in the field.
After a period of training, on 2 March 1944, Eileen arrived via Lysander in Les Lagnys, Saint-Valentin. Her mission was to work as a wireless operator for the Wizard network. She also organised sources of finance for the Resistance. Over five months she transmitted 105 messages, each one sent at enormous personal risk.
Coincidentally, Eileen’s organiser, Jean Savy, returned to Britain on 9 April 1944 on the same aircraft as her sister, Jacqueline, who had spent fifteen successful months in the field. Savy arrived in Britain with important information about the Nazi’s V1 rockets.
In July 1944, the Gestapo detected Eileen’s transmitter and arrested her. A period of barbarity followed, which included crude forms of inhuman treatment. Nevertheless, despite the torture, Eileen convinced the Gestapo that a businessman had hired her to send messages and that, at the time, she remained innocent of his British nationality.
In August 1944, the Gestapo sent Eileen to Ravensbrück concentration camp then on to Silesia. At the camps, the guards forced her into slave labour. However, she remained defiant and, despite more torture, refused.
On 13 April 1945, Eileen escaped with two French women. Marching to another camp through the snow and dark they hid in a forest then travelled to Markkleeberg where the S.S. arrested them. However, they managed to fool the S.S. (it’s remarkable how many agents managed to do this) and with the aid of a priest they hid in Leipzig until the liberating Americans arrived a few days later.
It’s ironic that Eileen constantly lied to the Gestapo and, for the most part, the believed her. They regarded her as ‘a silly little French girl who was wasting their time.’ However, when she told the Americans the truth they didn’t believe her and it took some time before they handed her over to the British authorities.
After the war, Eileen suffered from what we now recognise as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Jacqueline cared for her and in 1997 she felt well enough to appear on a Timewatch television programme where she discussed her wartime experiences.