Lise de Baissac
|Lise de Baissac|
|Nickname(s)||Agent Scientist, Odile, Irène, Marguerite, Adèle|
11 May 1905|
|Died||28 March 2004(aged 98)|
|Allegiance||United Kingdom, France|
|Service/branch||Special Operations Executive, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry|
|Years of service||1942–1944 (SOE/FANY)|
|Relations||Claude de Baissac|
Lise Marie Jeanette de Baissac MBE (11 May 1905 – 28 March 2004) was born in Mauritius of French descent and British nationality. She was a heroine of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War, a special agent who risked her life running her own operations; she was awarded several gallantry awards after the war.
Escape to Britain
The third of three children, Lise was born to a French family in Mauritius, but was a British subject as all Mauritians then were. Her parents taught her and her siblings French from an early age and they moved to Paris in 1919.
In 1940, Paris was occupied by the Germans. Her eldest brother, Jean de Baissac, joined the British Army. Lise and her other brother, Claude, travelled to the South of France in an attempt to reach England. She obtained help with travel arrangements to England from the American Consulate and crossed into Spain and went to Lisbon, where she waited for five months for permission to travel to Gibraltar and on to the UK. The ship docked in Scotland and she made her way to London where she made contact with Lady Kemsley, who helped her get a job at the Daily Sketch. Her brother, Claude, was recruited by the SOE. As soon as the SOE began recruiting women, Lise applied to join. She was interviewed by Selwyn Jepson, and was speedily accepted for training, however not as a courier or a wireless operator but to set up her own small circuit.
Her training took place at Beaulieu, Hampshire, where she trained with the second group of women reruited by the SOE including Mary Herbert, Odette Sansom and Jacqueline Nearne. She was commissioned in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in July 1942. The commandant at Beaulieu wrote that De Baissac was "quite imperturbable and would remain cool and collected in any situation ... [s]he was very much ahead of her fellow students".
On 24 September 1942, she and Andrée Borrel were among the first female SOE agents to be parachuted into France. (Yvonne Rudellat had arrived by boat two months earlier.) On the eve of her departure she was taken for dinner by Colonel Maurice Buckmaster and seen off from RAF Tempsford in a Whitley bomber. Borrell was the first to drop, with de Baissac following in quick succession, landing in the village of Boisrenard near the town of Mer. Their mission was to establish a safe house in Poitiers where new agents could be settled into the secret life.
Lise's role was to be a courier and liaison officer on the SCIENTIST network, communicating with the Prosper - PHYSICIAN network under Francis Suttill and the BRICKLAYER network under France Antelme, with the mission "to form a new circuit and to provide a centre where agents could go with complete security for material help and information on local details" and to organise the pick-up of arms drops from the UK to assist the French resistance. She was effectively reproducing in Poitiers what Virginia Hall had created in Lyons. Lise used a number of code names (including "Odile", "Irene", "Marguerite" and "Adele"). Her cover story was that she was a poor widow from Paris, Madame Irene Brisse, seeking refuge from the tension of life in the capital and to avoid the food shortages of the capital. She moved into an apartment on a busy street near the Gestapo HQ, and became acquainted with the Gestapo chief, Herr Grabowski.
She also used the role of an amateur archaeologist looking for rock specimens in order to bicycle round the Loire countryside to reconnoitre possible parachute drop-zones and landing areas for RAF 138 and 161 squadrons. Having no radio to send and receive messages, she had to travel to Paris or Bordeaux; the latter location being where her brother Claude de Baissac was developing the SCIENTIST network, organising sabotage missions and gathering information on ship and submarine movements. In June 1943, the Prosper - PHYSICIAN network collapsed and ARTIST was also penetrated by the Gestapo, and so on the night of 16/17 August Lise, Claude and Major Nicholas Bodington, were flown back to England by Lysander. Lise was then sent to RAF Ringway where she was conducting officer to two new agents, Yvonne Baseden and Violette Szabo. While she was assisting them with their training, Lise de Baissac broke her leg.
Once her leg healed, she returned to France (dropped by Lysander near Villers-les-Ormes on the night of 9/10 April 1944) to work for the PIMENTO network, headed by Anthony Brooks, under the new codename Marguerite. However, in training related Maquis groups in weapons handling, she came into conflict with the group, believing that they were militant socialists with their own political motives.
She rejoined her brother Claude, who had been dropped in February 1944 and made his way to Normandy to reconnoitre possible large areas which airborne troops could hold for 48 hours while they got themselves established. After the D-Day, she gathered information on German dispositions and passed it to the Allies, even renting a room in a house occupied by the local commander of the German Forces. When the US troops arrived to liberate the area, she was wearing her FANY uniform, which she had kept hidden in France.
After the war she married Gustave Villameur, an interior decorator living in Marseille; they had no children. She died, aged 98, in 2004.
In 2008, her life was recaptured in the French film Female Agents (Les Femmes de l'ombre).
- France: Knight of the Légion d'honneur (LH), Croix de guerre 1939-1945 (CG) with palm ;
- UK: Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), September 1945.
- One British officer declared: "The role she played in aiding the maquis and the resistance in France will never be over-praised and she did much to enable to maquis and resistance's preparations before the American breakthrough in Mayenne."
- Her SOE dossier states "[S]he was the inspiring-force for the groups in the Orne, and through her initiatives she inflicted heavy losses on the Germans thanks to anti-tyre devices scattered on the roads near Saint-Aubin-du-Désert, Saint-Mars-du-Désert, and even as far as Laval, Le Mans and Rennes. She also took part in armed attacks on enemy columns."
- Foot, Michael Richard Daniell. SOE in France: An account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive in France, 1940-1944, London, Her Majesty's Stationery Office (1966, 1968)
- Whitehall History Publishing (in association with Frank Cass), SOE in France: An account of the Work of the British Special Operations Executive in France, 1940-1944 (2004).