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Maurice Buckmaster

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Maurice Buckmaster
Born(1902-01-11)11 January 1902
Brereton, Staffordshire
Died17 April 1992(1992-04-17) (aged 90)
Forest Row, East Sussex
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1940–46
Commands heldF-Section, Special Operations Executive
Battles/warsWorld War II
RelationsMay Dorothy Steed, 3 children; Anna Cecilia (née Reinstein)

Colonel Maurice James Buckmaster OBE (11 January 1902 – 17 April 1992) was the leader of the French section of Special Operations Executive and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Apart from his war service, Buckmaster was a corporate manager with the French branch of the Ford Motor Company, in the postwar years serving in Dagenham. He wrote two memoirs about his service with the Resistance during World War II.

Early life and career[edit]

Maurice Buckmaster was born on 11 January 1902 at Ravenhill, Brereton, Rugeley, Staffordshire, England, the son of Eva Matilda (daughter of R. B. Nason, M.D., of Nuneaton, Warwickshire)[1][2] and Henry James Buckmaster, a company director running a brewery. He grew up at Marsham Lodge, Gerrards Cross.[3] He was educated at Eton College.[4]

Buckmaster showed an academic bent and gained an exhibition (scholarship) to study Classics at the University of Oxford, but was unable to take this up as his father went bankrupt. After financial problems in early 1912,[5] his father received orders under the "Bankruptcy Act of 1914" in June 1921.[6]

Buckmaster was allowed to stay on at Eton for a final year through a scholarship and by tutoring younger boys, and from that point onwards was entirely dependent on his own resources. After doing some teaching he made his way to France where he soon became almost fluent in the language and gained a reporter's position with the French newspaper Le Matin.[7] Later he moved into banking for six years where, at Schroeders, he met his future wife May Dorothy Steed (born in Lima in 1904). They married in 1927 and had three children, Michael (known as Tim) in 1930, Sybil Romola (in Paris, 1933) and Mary (known as Tina) back in London in 1935. In 1929, he was employed to help establish branches of the Ford Motor Company in several European countries, eventually becoming a senior manager with the French branch of the American Ford Motor Company.[citation needed] While travelling throughout France in this role he gained very considerable knowledge of the towns and the road network.[citation needed]

Early wartime service[edit]

When World War II broke out, Buckmaster returned to England. He joined the British Army and on 14 October 1939 was commissioned to the General List as a lieutenant (service number 101877).[8] He joined the British Expeditionary Force and fought in France until the retreat to Dunkirk, evacuating on one of the last boats out on 2 June 1940. On his return from France, Buckmaster transferred from the General List to the Intelligence Corps with effect from 15 July 1940 and was promoted to temporary captain.[9]

Following this, Buckmaster was an intelligence officer with 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, which he decided to leave after the division was scheduled to move to the Middle East. He was involved in Operation Menace in September 1940, a failed attempt to seize the port of Dakar in former French territory.[10][11] Following a meeting with Gerald Templer, he was recruited into Special Operations Executive (SOE), or MO1(SP).[12] On 20 December 1940, his services in the Battle of France and at Dunkirk were recognized and he was mentioned in dispatches. The official record shows his rank as second lieutenant acting major.[13]

Special Operations Executive[edit]

On 17 March 1941, Buckmaster was appointed to SOE's French section and following an attachment to T-Section, the Belgian Section, to assist Hardy Amies from July 1941, he was noted as a future head of F Section.[14] This section recruited agents from among those Frenchmen who had not chosen to directly ally themselves with General Charles de Gaulle. A separate section of SOE, RF Section, worked with those members of the French Resistance who were clearly Gaullist in their loyalties. There was often considerable tension between F and RF sections.[15]

In September 1941, succeeding the civilian Henry R. Marriott (a director of Courtaulds French Division), Major Buckmaster assumed command of F Section, supported by Nicholas Bodington, working from an apartment in Orchard Court near Oxford Street. His task was to build an organization which could carry out sabotage and collect information about the enemy and provide money and equipment for the French resistance. Between 1941 and 1944, his organization placed 366 agents in France and set up nearly 50 networks.[16] The office later moved to 64 Baker Street, London.

In Chelsea, London in November 1941, Buckmaster married Anna Cecilia Stevenson (née Reinstein). She was the daughter of a Bavarian German hairdresser brought up in East London, and the former wife of the barrister Melford Stevenson.[17]

At F Section, Buckmaster worked closely with his assistant Vera Atkins, who was also the section's intelligence officer and a spy mistress. During the war, the F Section handled over 400 undercover agents, many of whom went missing. After the war, it would be Atkins' task to find what happened to them, including agents she had trained. It turned out that Buckmaster had refused to believe, although shown evidence, that their network had been compromised, thus sending many agents to their arrests and deaths for over a year, despite warnings from agents.[18] During the war, he usually worked 16 to 18 hours per day and frequently more.

In the autumn of 1944, Buckmaster was promoted to colonel and toured newly freed France, giving lectures and delivering speeches on a mission based in the Hotel Cecil in Paris and known as "JUDEX" which also provided the opportunity to clear up F Section's circuits and networks.[19]

Buckmaster's wartime service was recognized by an award of the OBE, unusually in the Civil Division, on 3 January 1945 (Colonel Buckmaster was discreetly listed as a "Civil Assistant" at the "War Office"[20]) and a Croix de Guerre from the French.

At the end of the war, Allied commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower said the section had helped shorten the war by six months. "It was the equivalent of 15 divisions," he said.[21] On 23 May 1947, the US Government awarded Buckmaster the Legion of Merit (Officer) which appeared in the London Gazette, and he was listed as a colonel with the Intelligence Corps.[22]

After World War II[edit]

After the war, Buckmaster rejoined the Ford Motor Company, serving in Dagenham as director of public affairs. In 1946 and 1947, he wrote a series of eight articles on F Section for the now-defunct Chambers Magazine, entitled They Came By Parachute. He wrote two memoirs, Specially Employed (1952) and They Fought Alone (1958). He was interviewed for the 1969 documentary The Sorrow and the Pity.[23]

In the official history of "SOE in France" (HMSO), a part of the series of campaign histories commissioned by the British government, author M.R.D. Foot wrote of Buckmaster, "He was a colourful and in many ways a controversial figure; he was not universally popular, but no better head for the section was ever in sight."[24] Buckmaster was an adviser on, and appeared as himself in, the film Odette, about Odette Sansom (then Odette Churchill, later Hallowes).

Maurice Buckmaster Lane, built on the former Joint Services School of Intelligence site in Ashford, Kent, is named after him.



  1. ^ Simkin, John (August 2014) [September 1997]. "Maurice Buckmaster". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  2. ^ Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes, 1921, p. 288
  3. ^ England & Wales Census, 1911. Gerrards Cross- Buckmaster family
  4. ^ Spartacus International website; accessed 28 August 2017.
  5. ^ "No. 28587". The London Gazette. 5 March 1912. p. 1739.
  6. ^ "No. 13714". The London Gazette. 6 June 1921. p. 978.
  7. ^ Howarth (1980), p.135
  8. ^ "No. 34731". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 November 1939. p. 7628.
  9. ^ "No. 34988". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 November 1940. p. 6484.
  10. ^ Howarth (1980), p.136-137
  11. ^ Foot (1966), p.151
  12. ^ National Archives, London. File HS 9/232/8 -Maurice Buckmaster
  13. ^ "No. 35020". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 December 1940. p. 7192.
  14. ^ Foot (1966), p. 179
  15. ^ Marks, Leo (1998). 'Between Silk and Cyanide'. London: Harper Collins; ISBN 0 00 255 944 7 pp. 30, 75, 167-68.
  16. ^ LaResistanceFrancaise - Maurice Buckmaster
  17. ^ Register of Marriages, December Quarter 1941, Chelsea, London.
  18. ^ A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE, Sarah Helm, Abacus, 2006, pages 295-96; ISBN 0349119368.
  19. ^ Foot (1966), pp. 44, 423
  20. ^ "No. 36869". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1944. p. 121.
  21. ^ Los Angeles Times - Buckmaster Obituary 22/4/1992
  22. ^ "No. 37961". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 May 1947. p. 2287.
  23. ^ "The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 14 March 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  24. ^ Foot (1966), p. 179
  25. ^ "No. 35020". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 December 1940. p. 7192.
  26. ^ LaResistanceFrancaise - Maurice Buckmaster
  27. ^ Seattle Times - Obituary - MJ Buckmaster
  28. ^ LaResistanceFrancaise - Maurice Buckmaster
  29. ^ Seattle Times - Obituary - MJ Buckmaster
  30. ^ "No. 37961". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 May 1947. p. 2287.
  31. ^ Seattle Times - Obituary - MJ Buckmaster
  32. ^ National Archives, London. Document WO 373/148/19 -Legion of Honor US award
  33. ^ "No. 36869". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1944. p. 121.


  • Patrick Howarth (1980). Undercover: The men and women of the SOE. Routledge. ISBN 0710005733.
  • Michael Richard Daniell Foot, 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, 2004. Official History of SOE in Europe..
  • André Gillois, L'Histoire secrète des Français à Londres, Le Cercle du nouveau Livre, Librairie Jules Taillandier, 1973.
  • Verity, Hugh (2013). We Landed by Moonlight. Crecy Publishing. ISBN 9780947554750.
  • M. R. D. Foot (2006). SOE in France. Routledge. ISBN 0415408008.