George Reginald Starr
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He was born in London, one of two sons of Alfred Demarest Starr, an American bookkeeper who became a naturalised British subject, and Englishwoman Ethel Renshaw. He was a grandson of William Robert Renshaw. He was educated at Ardingly College, and at the age of 16, undertook a seven-year apprenticeship as a coal-miner in Shropshire. After studying mining engineering at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College London, he joined the Glasgow firm of Mavor and Coulson Ltd, manufacturers of mining equipment.
World War II
In 1940, he was working in Liège, Belgium when the German invasion began. He escaped back to England with British forces in the Dunkirk evacuation. He joined the British Army, being commissioned on the General List. He was subsequently recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE) for his language skills and give the code name Hilaire. His brother John Renshaw Starr was also a member of the SOE.
In November 1942, shortly before German forces began their occupation of the Vichy Republic, he arrived secretly by boat on the Mediterranean coast of France. Based in Castelnau-sur-l'Auvignon, posing as a retired Belgian mining engineer who had made a fortune in the Congo, he successfully organised a French Resistance network in the southwest corner of France, between Toulouse, Bordeaux and the Pyrenees, designated by the SOE as the 'Wheelwright Sector'. Starr spied on the German 11th Tank Division near Bordeaux. The group he led also cut telephone and power lines and sabotaged power stations. He managed to persuade anticommunist and communist resistance members to join forces to fight the German occupiers. One of his team members was Denise Bloch.
In 1944, before the Normandy Invasion, Starr created an armed group called the "Armagnac Battalion" in Toulouse. During the invasion, they destroyed communication and transportation lines. When the SS Panzer division Das Reich tried to reinforce the German forces in Normandy, Starr's troops delayed it so it arrived too late to stop the landings. During the Liberation, Starr's group took control of the Toulouse area. When Charles de Gaulle visited the region, he got into a spirited argument with Starr and threatened to imprison him, until he apparent changed his mind and shook Starr's hand. Starr was accused of the torture and brutal treatment of collaborators and prisoners by one of his couriers, Anne-Marie Walters. Subsequent investigations established the truth of the accusations, but the results were hushed up.
He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order, the Military Cross, and the Croix de Guerre Avec Palme. He was also made an Officer of the Légion d'honneur. The United States government awarded him the Medal of Freedom with Silver Bar. He finished the war with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
- "BBC Historic Figures - George Starr (1904 - 1980)". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 18 May 2008.
- Hastings, Max. All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945. HarperCollins UK, 2011.