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26 April 1914|
5 February 1945 (aged 30)|
Ravensbrück concentration camp, Germany
|Allegiance||United Kingdom, France|
|Service/branch||Women's Auxiliary Air Force,
Special Operations Executive,
First Aid Nursing Yeomanry
|Years of service||1943 (WAAF) / 1943-1945 (SOE)|
|Rank||Assistant Section Officer (WAAF) / Ensign (FANY)|
|Awards||MBE, Croix de Guerre (avec Palme), Mentioned in Dispatches|
Lilian Vera Rolfe (26 April 1914, Paris, France - 5 February 1945, Ravensbrück, Germany) was an Allied secret agent in World War II.
She and her twin sister Helen Fedora Rolfe were the daughters of George Rolfe, a British chartered accountant working in Paris. Although she grew up in Paris, as a young girl, she and her sister when they were about 7 and then again when they were 11 came to England for summer school to learn English as they spoke French at home. When she was seventeen had rheumatic fever while visiting an English family. When she had recovered she took part in swimming and dancing when the family moved to Brazil. She worked for the Canadian Embassy but when the war started she changed to the British Embassy. She did courses in first aid and Morse code.
World War II
At the onset of World War II, Rolfe worked at the British Embassy in Rio de Janeiro before going to London, England in 1943 to join the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Because of her fluency in the French language, she was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE), where she was trained as a wireless operator.
On 5 April 1944, she was dropped near the city of Orléans in occupied France, where she was deployed to work with the "Historian" network run by George Wilkinson. Her job was to transmit Maquis and other important radio messages to London. Beyond her wireless duties, that included reporting on German troop movements and organizing arms and supply drops, she actively participated in missions with members of the French Resistance against the German occupiers and was involved in a gun battle in the small town of Olivet just south of Orléans.
Following the D-Day landings, an increasingly aggressive manhunt by the Gestapo led to the arrest of her superior officer. Nonetheless, Rolfe continued to work until her arrest at a transmitting house in Nargis on 31 July 1944. Transported to Fresnes Prison in Paris, she was interrogated repeatedly and brutally tortured until August 1944, when she was shipped to Ravensbrück concentration camp. According to an admission made by a German officer after the war’s end, she was so ill that she could not walk. On 5 February 1945, 30-year-old Lilian Rolfe was executed by the Germans and her body disposed of in the crematorium.
The name of Lilian Rolfe is engraved on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, England. The "Lilian Rolfe House" at the Vincennes Estate, Lambeth was dedicated to her memory. In her honor, the government of France posthumously awarded her the Croix de Guerre. In the town of Montargis in the Loiret département, where she had been active, a street was named for her alias: "Rue Claudie Rolfe". As one of the SOE agents who died for the liberation of France, she is listed on the "Roll of Honor" on the Valençay SOE Memorial in the town of Valençay, in the Indre departément of France. Like many female agents she was seconded into the FANY when she joined SOE. Thus she is also commemorated on the FANY memorial at St Paul's Church Knightsbridge in London.
|Order of the British Empire
|1939–1945 Star||France and Germany Star||War Medal with Mentioned in Dispatches|
|Croix de Guerre (France)|
Depiction in Popular Culture
- Squadron Leader Beryl E. Escott, Mission Improbable: A salute to the RAF women of SOE in wartime France, London, Patrick Stevens Limited, 1991. ISBN 1-85260-289-9
- Liane Jones, A Quiet Courage: Women Agents in the French Resistance, London, Transworld Publishers Ltd, 1990. ISBN 0-593-01663-7
- Marucs Binney, The Women Who Lived for Danger: The Women Agents of SOE in the Second World War, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 2002. ISBN 0-340-81840-9
- Sarah Helm, A Life in Secrets: The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE, London, Abacus, 2005 ISBN 978-0-349-11936-6
- Helen Oliver her sister.
- Jones, Phillip (2010-01-01). Quickly To Her Fate. Lulu.com. ISBN 9780956554932.
- Field, Professor Andrew; Grehan, John; Mace, Martin (2012-12-19). Unearthing Churchill's Secret Army: The Official List of SOE Casualties and Their Stories. Casemate Publishers. ISBN 9781783376643.
- Escott, Beryl (2010-12-26). Heroines of SOE. The History Press. ISBN 9780752462455.