Eileen Nearne

Eileen Nearne was born on March 16, 1921, to an English father, John Nearne, and a Spanish mother, Marie de Plazoala. In 1923, the family moved to France, where Eileen learned to speak fluent French.[1]

When Germany invaded France in 1940, Eileen and her sister were sent to London while the rest of the family remained in Grenoble, France. Upon arrival in England, she was offered a job with the WAAF, the women’s auxiliary Air Force, to work on barrage balloons. However, she turned this down and was recruited by the SOE, the Special Operations Executive.

Nearne was enrolled in the first aid nursing yeomanry, FANY, where she worked as a home-based signals operator receiving secret messages from agents in the field.

In March 1944, she was dropped from a plane into a field near Les Lagnys, Saint-Valentin, in Indre, France. They arrived between the late hours of March 2 and the early hours of March 3. Nearne worked with Jean Savy as a wireless operator for the “Wizard” Network as part of “Operation Mitchel.” Using the code name Rose, her mission was to help Savy set up a network in Paris called wizard. The “Wizard” Network was not dedicated to sabotaging. Instead, it was meant to organize sources of finance for the resistance. Her role was to maintain a wireless link to London, and in five months, she transmitted one hundred and five messages.

Jean Savy eventually returned to London with important information about German b-1 flying bombs, leaving Nearne alone. She did not know it then, but her sister was also on the aircraft that took Savy to London.

July 25, 1944, her transmitter was detected. She had gone to the safe house to transmit an urgent message against her chief’s orders. As she was finishing, there was a knock on her neighbor’s door. She quickly hid her equipment before they came to her door. After hearing a knock on her door, she opened it and was confronted by a man pointing a pistol in her face. The safe house was searched, and Nearne’s gear was discovered. She was arrested and taken to Paris.[2]

It is said that Eileen Nearne ” survived, in silence, the full revolting treatment of the baignoire [water torture].” She was tortured in the Paris headquarters of the Gestapo. She convinced her captors, under torture, that she had been sending messages for a businessman and that she was unaware that he was British.[3]

On August 15, 1944, she was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. There, she refused to do prison work. Her head was shaved, and she was told she would be shot if she continued resisting. Eventually, she was transferred to a forced labor camp in Silesia. It is believed that she was tortured further while in these camps.[4]

On April 13, 1945, she escaped the forced labor camp with two French girls. They hid in the forest to avoid capture. While traveling through Markkleeberg, they were arrested by the SS. However, they were released after successfully pulling their captors and reportedly hidden by a priest in Leipzig until United States soldiers arrived.[5]

After the war, Nearne lived in London with her sister, Jacqueline. The New York Times reported that she suffered “psychological problems brought on by her wartime service.”[6] She spoke about her wartime activities on a Timewatch television documentary in 1997. In the documentary, she went by her code name Rose and wore a wig.

Eileen Nearne’s activities during World War II went greatly unnoticed. She died alone of a heart attack in 2010 at 89 years old. Her body went undiscovered for some time until she was found on September 2. It was only once council workers searched her flat to establish the next of kin that her World War II medals and other papers related to that service were found.

[1] “Eileen Nearne”. The Telegraph. 17 September 2010.
[2] Kate Vigurs, Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2021). 182.
[3] “War heroine found dead in Devon to have council funeral”. BBC News. 14 September 2010.
[4] “Eileen Nearne”, The Telegraph, 17 September 2010.
[5] “War heroine found dead in Devon to have council funeral,” BBC News, 14 September 2010.
[6] John Fisher Burns, “Eileen Nearne, wartime spy, dies at 89,” The New York Times, September 21, 2010.

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