Harry Rée

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Harry Alfred Rée
Born 15 October 1914 (1914-10-15)
Died 17 May 1991 (1991-05-18) (aged 76)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank Captain
Unit Special Operations Executive
Intelligence Corps
Commands held Stockbroker
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Order of the British Empire
Other work Teacher and Educationist

Harry Alfred Rée, DSO, OBE (15 October 1914 – 17 May 1991) was a British educationist and wartime member of the Special Operations Executive.

Harry Rée was born in England, the son of Dr. Alfred Rée, a chemist who was from an illustrious Danish Jewish family, and Lavinia Elisabeth Dimmick, the American-born great granddaughter of chemist and industrialist Eleuthère Irénée du Pont.[1][2] He was educated at Shrewsbury School, Cambridge University, and the Institute of Education, University of London. In 1937 he became a language master at Bradford Grammar School, and later at Beckenham and Penge County School for Boys. In 1940 he married Hetty, daughter of Eardley Vine, of Beaconsfield.[3] They had three children, Janet, Brian and the philosopher Jonathan.

Wartime service[edit]

In the Second World War Rée was registered in 1940 as a conscientious objector conditional upon working in the National Fire Service,[4] but in 1941 re-registered for military service and was called up into the army. He later volunteered for the Special Operations Executive, receiving a captaincy in the Intelligence Corps and the codename "César". In April 1943 he was parachuted into France and joined the Acrobat Network around Montbéliard. Later he became active in the Stockbroker Network around Belfort.

Rée spoke against RAF bombing in France, arguing that it was turning French public opinion against the Allies. He suggested that SOE agents could organise effective sabotage of factories on the ground. He organised the destruction of the Peugeot factory at Sochaux by convincing the local director, who was already resisting, to co-operate with SOE. The local director's sabotage was more efficient, and he managed to share tactical information on the Wehrmacht projects they had had to become involved in (especially the [V-1]). On 5 November 1943 Rée organised a decoy attack on compressors and transformers at Sochaux to transfer the blame. Therefore, the RAF did not bomb the factory.

The Germans tried to capture Rée, who escaped a Feldgendarmerie group after being shot four times and, according to his own account, had to swim across a river and crawl through a forest. He managed to reach Switzerland and still keep some contact with his organisation. In May 1944 he was replaced by an American officer, E.F. Floege, and returned to Britain. He starred in the film Now it Can be Told (aka School for Danger), produced by the RAF Film Unit, which told the story of SOE's activities in France.

Educational career[edit]

In 1951, Rée became headmaster of Watford Grammar School for Boys. He appeared occasionally on the BBC Television "Brains Trust" programme. In 1962 he became the first professor of education at the University of York.[5] Although earlier in his career he had published a book entitled The Essential Grammar School, he became a strong advocate of comprehensive education. He was active in the Society for the Promotion of Education Reform and the Programme for Reform in Secondary Education.

In 1974 he left the University of York and went to Woodberry Down Comprehensive School in North London as an ordinary classroom teacher of French and German once again, this time under the headship of his friend Michael Marland; during this period he broadcast a talk on BBC Radio arguing that one should not retire suddenly from the peak of one's career; rather one should wind down one's working life gently in the same manner in which one had wound it up. He finally retired in 1980. Rée continued to advocate close links between schools of the European Community and the repeal of the 1988 Education Act.

Rée wrote a biography of the educator and inventor of Village Colleges, Henry Morris : Extraordinary: The Life and Achievements of Henry Morris (Longman, 1973) and produced a compilation of Morris' talks and articles, The Henry Morris Collection (Cambridge University Press, 1984).[6] He died in 1991.


  1. ^ "Hartvig Philip Rée og hans slægt", Josef Fischer, Copenhagen, 1912
  2. ^ http://www.flojborg.dk/slaegt/3846.htm
  3. ^ "Forthcoming marriages", The Times, 18 April 1940
  4. ^ Imperial War Museum, Sound Archives, 10858/2
  5. ^ The University of York – 1960s
  6. ^ Henry Morris – infed.org

Further reading[edit]

  • The Secret History of SOE, pages 582–583 & 600, William MacKenzie

Primary sources[edit]

The personal papers and recordings of Harry Rée are held by the Institute of Education Archives [1]. A list of these papers can be found on the online catalogue.

External links[edit]