Lise de Baissac

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Lise de Baissac
LisedeBaissac.jpg
In FANY uniform after joining SOE.
Nickname(s)Odile, Irène, Marguerite, Adèle
(SOE codenames)
Born(1905-05-11)11 May 1905
Mauritius
Died28 March 2004(2004-03-28) (aged 98)
AllegianceUnited Kingdom, France
Service/branchSpecial Operations Executive, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry
Years of service1942–1944 (SOE/FANY)
UnitScientist (SOE)
Battles/warsSecond World War
RelationsClaude de Baissac

Lise Marie Jeanette de Baissac MBE (11 May 1905 – 28 March 2004)[1][2][3] 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.[4]

Early life[edit]

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.

World War II[edit]

Escape to Britain[edit]

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 Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Special Operations Executive[edit]

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 recruited by the SOE including Mary Herbert, Odette Sansom and Jacqueline Nearne.[5] 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".

First mission[edit]

On 24 September 1942, she and Andrée Borrel were the first female SOE agents to be parachuted into France.[6][7][8] (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.[9] 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.[10]

She also used the role of an amateur archaeologist looking for rock specimens to bicycle around 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.[4]

Second mission[edit]

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. Shortly after Lise's arrival, two French schoolgirls of the PIMENTO network helped cripple eighty-two tank carriers of the Das Reich, Deutschland, and Der Führer divisions around Montauban.[11]

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.

According to Lise, on one occasion, "the Germans arrived and threw me out of my room. I arrived to take my clothes and found they had opened up the parachute I had made into a sleeping bag and were sitting on it. Fortunately they had no idea what it was."[12] She continued her activities until the liberation, organising several groups and providing the Allied forces with information. When the US troops arrived to liberate the area, she was wearing her First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) uniform, which she had kept hidden in France.

Post-war[edit]

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 highly fictionalised French film Female Agents (Les Femmes de l'ombre).

Recognition[edit]

SOE Agents Memorial
Honours
Citations 
  • 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."[13]

Order of the British Empire
(Member)
1939–1945 Star France and Germany Star War Medal 1939–1945
Légion d'honneur
(Chevalier)
Croix de Guerre (France)

Related cultural works[edit]

Movie based on the book by R.J. Minney about Violette Szabo, starring Paul Scofield and Virginia McKenna.
  • Churchill's Spy School (2010)[14]
Documentary about the SOE "finishing school" on the Beaulieu estate in Hampshire.
French film about five SOE female agents and their contribution towards the D-Day invasions.
  • Nancy Wake Codename: The White Mouse (1987)
Docudrama about Nancy Wake's work for SOE, partly narrated by Wake (Wake was disappointed that the film was changed from an 8-hour resistance story to a 4-hour love story).
Filming began in 1944 and starred real-life SOE agents Captain Harry Rée and Jacqueline Nearne codenamed "Felix" and "Cat", respectively. The film tells the story of the training of agents for SOE and their operations in France. The training sequences were filmed using the SOE equipment at the training schools at Traigh and Garramor (South Morar) and at Ringway.
Movie based on the book by Jerrard Tickell about Odette Sansom, starring Anna Neagle and Trevor Howard. The film includes an interview with Maurice Buckmaster, head of SOE's F-Section.
  • Robert and the Shadows (2004)
French documentary on France Télévisions. Did General De Gaulle tell the whole truth about the French resistance? This is the purpose of this documentary. Jean Marie Barrere, the French director, uses the story of his own grandfather (Robert) to tell the French what SOE did at that time. Robert was a French teacher based in the southwest of France, who worked with SOE agent George Reginald Starr (codenamed "Hilaire", in charge of the "Wheelwright" circuit).
Television series that was broadcast between 1987 and 1990 featuring the exploits of the women and, less frequently, the men of SOE, which was renamed the 'Outfit'.

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "Lise Marie Jeanette de Baissac – SOE – Special Forces – Roll of Honour". Retrieved 13 March 2008.
  2. ^ Kramer 1995.
  3. ^ Helm 2005.
  4. ^ a b Obituary in the Daily Telegraph.
  5. ^ Binney 2003, p. 142.
  6. ^ Kramer 1995, p. 91.
  7. ^ O'Conner 2016.
  8. ^ West 1992, p. 111.
  9. ^ Binney 2003, p. 141.
  10. ^ Binney 2003, p. 144.
  11. ^ Binney 2003, p. 150.
  12. ^ Binney 2003, p. 153.
  13. ^ Binney 2003, p. 154.
  14. ^ "Churchill's Spy School". Internet Movie Database. 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2017.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Binney, Marcus (2003). The Women Who Lived for Danger: The Agents of the Special Operations Executive. New York City: William Morrow. ISBN 978-0060540876.
  • Helm, Sarah (2005). A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII. New York City: Anchor Books. ISBN 978-1-4000-3140-5. Documents Atkins' post-war search for missing SOE agents including Borrel.
  • Kramer, Rita (1995). Flames in the Field. London, UK: Michael Joseph. ISBN 978-1-4538-3427-5. Focus on the four female SOE agents (Borrel, Leigh, Olschanezky and Rowden) executed in the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp.
  • O'Conner, Bernard (2016). Agents Françaises: French women infiltrated into France during the Second World War. UK: Bernard O'Conner. ISBN 978-1326-70328-8.
  • West, Nigel (1992). Secret War: The Story of SOE, Britain’s Wartime Sabotage Organization. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-34-051870-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Aubrac, Raymond; Aubrac, Lucie (2014). The French Resistance. France: Hazan Editeur. ISBN 978-2850255670.
  • Bourne-Patterson, Robert (2016). SOE in France 1941–1945: An Official Account of the Special Operations Executive's French Circuits. Barnsley, UK: Frontline Books. ISBN 978-1-4738-8203-4.
  • Buckmaster, Maurice (2014). They Fought Alone: The True Story of SOE's Agents in Wartime France. Biteback Publishing. ISBN 978-1849-5469-28.
  • Crowdy, Terry (2007). French Resistance Fighter: France's Secret Army. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-076-5.
  • Escott, Beryl (1992). A Quiet Courage: The story of SOE's women agents in France. Sparkford, UK: Patrick Stevens Ltd (Haynes). ISBN 978-1-8526-0289-5.
  • Foot, M. R. D. (1999). The Special Operations Executive 1940–1946. London, UK: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6585-4.
  • Milton, Giles (2016). Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. London, UK: John Murray. ISBN 978-1-444-79898-2.
  • O'Conner, Bernard (2016). Agents Françaises: French women infiltrated into France during the Second World War. UK: Bernard O'Conner. ISBN 978-1326-70328-8.
  • Ousby, Ian (2000) [1999]. Occupation: The Ordeal of France, 1940–1944. New York City: Cooper Square Press. ISBN 978-0815410430.
  • Stevenson, William (2006). Spymistress: The Life of Vera Atkins, the Greatest Female Secret Agent of World War II. New York City: Arcade Publishing. ISBN 978-1-5597-0763-3.
  • Stroud, Rick (2017). Lonely Courage: The true story of the SOE heroines who fought to free Nazi-0ccupied France. New York City: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-14711-5565-9.
  • Suttill, Francs J. (2014). Shadows in the Fog: The True Story of Major Suttill and the Prosper French Resistance Network. Stroud, UK: The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7509-5591-1.
  • Thomas, Gordon; Lewis, Greg (2016). Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE. Stroud, UK: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1445-6614-45.
  • Yarnold, Patrick (2009). Wanborough Manor: School for secret agents. Hopfield Publications. ISBN 978-0956348906.

External links[edit]