Madeleine Damerment

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Madeleine Damerment
Damerment during World War II.
Nickname(s)Martine Dussautoy, Solange, Dancer, (SOE codenames)
Born(1917-11-11)11 November 1917
Lille, France
Died13 September 1944(1944-09-13) (aged 26)
Dachau, Germany
AllegianceFrance, Britain
Service/branchFrench Resistance
Special Operations Executive
Years of service1943–1944 (SOE)
RankEnsign (nominally for FANY while actually an SOE agent)
UnitBricklayer (SOE)
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsLégion d'honneur
Croix de Guerre
Médaille de la Résistance
King's Commendation for Brave Conduct

Madeleine Zoe Damerment (11 November 1917 – 13 September 1944) was a French spy in World War II who served in the French Resistance and Britain's Special Operations Executive.[1] Damerment was to be a courier for SOE's Bricklayer circuit in France during World War II but was arrested upon arrival by the Gestapo, who knew she was coming.[2] She was subsequently executed at the Dachau concentration camp.[3]

Early life[edit]

Damerment was born in Lille, France, the second daughter of the city's postmaster.[4] Her father got her a job as a clerk in the Post Office.[5]

Wartime service[edit]

Escape line[edit]

Following the occupation of France by the Germans in World War II, Damerment's family became actively involved with the French resistance. Damerment worked as an assistant to Michael Trotobas (British SOE agent) on the Pat O'Leary escape line set up by Albert Guérisse, where she helped downed British airmen and others to escape France until 1942, when one of her fellow resistance workers, Harold Cole, betrayed the group and she fled to England.[5]

Special Operations Executive[edit]

In England, Damerment volunteered to work with the Special Operations Executive and was allocated the cover name Martine Dussautoy and commissioned as an ensign in the FANY.[6] Sent to Scotland for paramilitary training, Captain Dixon-Robertson, her signals instructor at Inverie (STS 24), determined that, only being considered fair for sending and receiving messages, she was unsuitable for work as a wireless operator , though Captain Smith reported that for physical training Damerment was a "keen and hard worker with good stamina." Damerment had a good grasp of the principles of close combat, worked well and was aggressive. For rope work, she was reported to have fair muscular strength and good co-ordination but required more practice. She worked well and showed keenness in fieldcraft although she found the theoretical side difficult.[6]

For weapons training, Damerment was reported to have improved and was "now a fair shot with pistol and carbine, but is lacking in aggressiveness."[7] She was very good at explosives and demolitions, both in theoretical and practical work, as she was reportedly "extremely keen" and made up "splendid charges", and was very good at writing route reports, being "accurate and painstaking".[8] For schemes and tactics, Damerment was considered to have been a "very hard-working member of a band on all schemes and has a good knowledge of tactics as well as a fund of common sense."[8] She was not very interested in boat work but "worked well and acquired a fair knowledge for elementary small boat handling and of knots."[8]

Captain Parson, the Commandant, reported the following:

I have not a great deal of faith in this student. Although she has a good brain, she is too temperamental and not sufficiently impersonal for a first-class student. She has, however, a good sense of humour and a certain amount of charm and intelligence.

— 10 December 1943[8]

After celebrating Christmas (1943) and New Year in England, Damerment was sent to Beaulieu for a clandestine warfare course. Major Wedgewood, an instructor at the House on the Shore (STS 33), reported the following in the beginning of February.

She is quite intelligent, practical, shrewd, quick and resourceful. She has imagination and cunning. Although she seemed keen, she did not always work very hard.

Her character is strong, but she is self-centred, rather irresponsible and sometimes impatient and turbulent. She is temperamental, and personal relationships play a considerable part in her life. She seemed deeply attached to friends.

Her personality is vivacious, and she can be pleasant when she wants to be, but she is also inclined to be malicious and sullen when she does not get her own way. She has a strong sense of humour. The student should make a satisfactory subordinate under a strong leader, but she would need careful handling.

CODES. Taught innocent Letter based on Playfair, with conventions. Double transposition. Letter One-time pad and secret censorship. Further practice required.

— 3 February 1944[9]
Handley Page Halifax B.III showing the later rectangular fins and Bristol Hercules radial engines.

Assigned the role of courier for the Bricklayer circuit (network), Damerment and agents France Antelme (organiser) and Lionel Lee (wireless operator) were parachuted from a RAF special duties 161 Squadron Halifax into a field near the city of Chartres in France on the night of 28/29 February 1944.[2][10] However, the Gestapo were waiting after as a result of having captured SOE wireless operators and transmitted false messages with their radios.[11][12] Damerment was transported to Gestapo headquarters on the Avenue Foch in Paris, where she was interrogated. On 12 May 1944, Damerment was sent with several other captured female SOE agents to Karlsruhe Prison, the civilian prison for women, where they were held for four months.[11]


On 12 September, Damerment was abruptly transferred to Dachau concentration camp with fellow agents Yolande Beekman, Noor Inayat Khan and Eliane Plewman, and at dawn on the following morning, 13 September, the four women were executed.[11][13][14]

A Gestapo man named Max Wassmer was in charge of prisoner transports at Karlsruhe and accompanied the women to Dachau.[15] Another Gestapo man named Christian Ott gave a statement to American investigators after the war as to the fate of Damerment and her three companions.[16] Ott was stationed at Karlsruhe and volunteered to accompany the four women to Dachau as he wanted to visit his family in Stuttgart on the return journey.[17] Though not present at the execution, Ott told investigators what Wassmer had told him.

The four prisoners had come from the barrack in the camp, where they had spent the night, into the yard where the shooting was to be done. Here he [Wassmer] had announced the death sentence to them. Only the Lagerkommandant and the two SS men had been present. The German-speaking Englishwoman (probably Beekman) had told her companion of this death sentence. All four had grown very pale and wept; the major asked whether they could protest against the sentence. The Kommandant declared that no protest could be made against the sentence. Beekman then asked to see a priest. The camp Kommandant refused this on the grounds that there was no priest in the camp.

The four prisoners now had to kneel with their heads towards a small mound of earth and were killed by the two SS, one after another by a shot through the back of the neck. During the shooting the two Englishwomen held hands and the two French-women likewise. For three of the prisoners the first shot caused death, but for the German-speaking Englishwoman a second shot had to be fired as she still showed signs of life after the first shot.

After the shooting of these prisoners the Lagerkommandant said to the two SS men that he took a personal interest in the jewellery of the women and that this should be taken into his office.[13]

Post-war report on the efforts to locate Madeleine Damerment. She was identified as an S.O.E. secret agent, so the report was labelled “SECRET” (top of page).

This cannot be considered a reliable account as Ott told the investigator he had asked Wassmer the following question after being told what had happed to the women: "But tell me, what really happened", to which Wassmer replied: "So you want to know how it really happened?"[18]

Memorial to Damerment and fellow agents in Dachau

Honours and awards[edit]

FANY (SOE) memorial, Brookwood Military Cemetery, 5 July 2017

Following the war, Damerment's contribution was recognised by her government with the posthumous awarding of the Legion of Honor, Croix de Guerre, the Médaille de la Résistance, and by the British King's Commendation for Brave Conduct. She is recorded on the FANY memorial at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, London[19] and also in column 3 of panel 26 of the Brookwood Memorial as one of 3,500 "to whom war denied a known and honoured grave".[20]

Damerment is also listed on the "Roll of Honor" on the Valençay SOE Memorial in the town of Valençay, in the Indre Département of France.[19] There is also a plaque on the south wall of the crematorium at the former Dachau concentration camp, where the four SOE agents are remembered.[14]

War Medal 39-45 BAR MID.png

1939–1945 Star France and Germany Star War Medal with King's Commendation for Brave Conduct
Légion d'honneur
Croix de Guerre (France) Médaille de la Résistance

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)[21]
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'.



  1. ^ "HS 9/1654". Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  2. ^ a b Kramer 1995, p. 171.
  3. ^ Kramer 1995, p. 172.
  4. ^ O'Conner 2016, pp. 335–336.
  5. ^ a b O'Conner 2016, p. 336.
  6. ^ a b O'Conner 2016, p. 345.
  7. ^ O'Conner 2016, pp. 345–346.
  8. ^ a b c d O'Conner 2016, p. 346.
  9. ^ O'Conner 2016, pp. 346–347.
  10. ^ O'Conner 2016, p. 347.
  11. ^ a b c O'Conner 2016, p. 348.
  12. ^ Fuller 1989, p. 171.
  13. ^ a b Helm 2005, pp. 286–287.
  14. ^ a b "Four young women who died for their country". McMaster. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  15. ^ Helm 2005, pp. 280.
  16. ^ Helm 2005, p. 283.
  17. ^ Helm 2005, pp. 284.
  18. ^ Helm 2005, pp. 344.
  19. ^ a b O'Conner 2016, p. 352.
  20. ^ Register from record of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission [Brookwood Memorial], May 2012
  21. ^ "Churchill's Spy School". IMDb. 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2017.


Further reading[edit]

  • Aubrac, Raymond; Aubrac, Lucie (2014). The French Resistance. France: Hazan Editeur. ISBN 978-2850255670. Overview of the French Resistance.
  • Binney, Marucs (1995). The Women Who Lived for Danger: The Women Agents of SOE in the Second World War. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-81840-9. Focus on the four female SOE agents (Borrel, Leigh, Olschanezky and Rowden) executed in the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp.
  • 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. A once classified report compiled in 1946 by a former member of SOE's F Section, Major Robert Bourne-Patterson, who was a planning officer.
  • Buckmaster, Maurice (2014). They Fought Alone: The True Story of SOE's Agents in Wartime France. Biteback Publishing. ISBN 978-1849-5469-28. Buckmaster was the head of SOE's F Section, who infamously ignored security checks by captured SOE wireless operators that indicated their capture, resulting in agents being captured and executed.
  • Crowdy, Terry (2007). French Resistance Fighter: France's Secret Army. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-076-5. Comprehensive coverage of the French Resistance.
  • 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. Overview of SOE (Foot won the Croix de Guerre as a SAS operative in Brittany, later becoming Professor of Modern History at Manchester University and an official historian of the SOE).
  • Grehan, John; Mace, Martin (2012). Unearthing Churchill's Secret Army: The Official List of SOE Casualties and Their Stories. Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1848847941. Detailed look at SOE casualties and selected stories that are representative of the experience of SOE personnel.
  • McDonald-Rothwell, Gabrielle (2017). Her Finest Hour. Stroud, UK: John Murray. ISBN 978-1445661643. The second and most recent biography of Rowden.
  • Milton, Giles (2016). Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. London, UK: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1-444-79898-2. A thorough overview of SOE.
  • Nicholas, Elizabeth (1958). Death Be Not Proud. London, UK: Cresset Press. ASIN B0006D98MW. The first biography of Rowden.
  • O'Conner, Bernard (2014). Churchill's Angels. Stroud, UK: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4456-3431-9. Overview of the scores of female SOE agents sent into occupied Europe during WW2 including Borrel.
  • Ousby, Ian (2000) [1999]. Occupation: The Ordeal of France, 1940–1944. New York City: Cooper Square Press. ISBN 978-0815410430. Comprehensive coverage of the German occupation of France.
  • Sebba, Anne (2016). Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation. New York City: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1250048592. Look at the lives of women in Paris during WW2.
  • 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. Overview of Atkins' activity at SOE (served as Buckmaster's intelligence officer in the F Section).
  • 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. Written by the son of Major Francis Suttill, the Prosper network chief executed by the Nazis in 1945.
  • Stroud, Rick (2017). Lonely Courage: The true story of the SOE heroines who fought to free Nazi-Occupied France. New York City: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-14711-5565-9. Documents the activities of female SOE agents in France including Borrel.
  • 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. Documents the activities of female OSS and SOE agents in France including Borrel.
  • Verity, Hugh (2000). We Landed By Moonlight: The Secret RAF landings in France 1940-1944. Manchester, UK: Crécy. ISBN 0947554-75-0. Documents RAF small aircraft landings in France during WW2 (author was one of the pilots).
  • West, Nigel (1992). Secret War: The Story of SOE, Britain's Wartime Sabotage Organization. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-34-051870-7. Overview of SOE activities.
  • Yarnold, Patrick (2009). Wanborough Manor: School for secret agents. Hopfield Publications. ISBN 978-0956348906.

External links[edit]

Media related to Madeleine Damerment at Wikimedia Commons