Peter Churchill

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Peter Morland Churchill

(1909-01-14)14 January 1909

1 May 1972(1972-05-01) (aged 63)
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died Le Rouret, France
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1940–1945
Rank Captain
Service number 162707
Unit Army Intelligence Corps
Special Operations Executive
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Croix de Guerre (France)

Peter Morland Churchill DSO Croix de Guerre (14 January 1909 – 1 May 1972) was a British Special Operations Executive (SOE) officer in France during the Second World War.

He was a brother of Walter Churchill and Oliver Churchill, who was also an SOE officer during the Second World War.


Churchill's father was William Algernon Churchill (1865–1947), a British Consul who served in Mozambique, Amsterdam, Pará in Brazil, Stockholm, Milan, Palermo, and Algiers. His father was also an art connoisseur, and author of what is still the standard reference work on early European paper and papermaking, Watermarks in Paper,[1] and his mother Violet (née Myers).

Peter was born in Amsterdam on 14 January 1909. He was educated at Malvern School from 1923-27, then spent 18 months at Chillon Castle, then to Geneva University, and from 1929-32 read Modern Languages at Caius College, Cambridge. In addition to his native English, he was bilingual in French and fluent in Spanish, Italian and German.[2] He also excelled in sports – he had the reputation of being one of the finest ice-hockey blues the university had produced[3] and was Captain of the Cambridge University Ice Hockey Club in 1932 and won 15 international caps, was proficient at exhibition diving, was a first-class skier, and played golf off a six handicap.[2]

He moved into the British diplomatic service and served as British Vice-Consul in the Netherlands from 1934–5, and Pro-Consul in Oran, Algeria from 1935–6. From September 1939 to August 1940, he was Under Secretary to Sir Norman Birkett in the Home Office Advisory Committee, and later became President of the Committee.[2]

Wartime activities[edit]

Monument in memory of HMS Unbroken (plaque)

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Churchill and three colleagues embarked aboard HMS Unbroken on 11 April 1941, and were dropped off by folboats in the Bay of Antibes on 20 April. That same night he returned to the submarine with François d'Astier de La Vigerie (Baron d′Astier de la Vigerie), who went by the name of Bernard.[4]

He continued his work as an Intelligence Officer and joined the Special Operations Executive in June 1941, assigned to the French Section. His code names were "Michel", "Raoul" and "Pierre Olivier". He was infiltrated into France four times, twice by submarine and twice by aircraft.

On 1 January 1942, he was landed at Miramar by submarine to supply and evaluate the Carte circuit of the Maquis and French Resistance, returning to England through Spain on 14 February. After he returned he was promoted to Captain.

On 1 March 1942, he landed in the south of France by submarine to deliver four other people.

On 27 August 1942, he was parachuted into the south of France and went to Cannes to organise and coordinate the SOE F Section "Spindle" Network. He developed a close relationship with his French courier Odette Sansom. The Spindle Network directed the delivery of supplies to support Carte. After Churchill's unsuccessful attempts to arrange for an aircraft to pick up himself and members of the Carte network, he relocated the Spindle network to Annecy. He returned to the UK on 23 March 1943.

Eventually the Abwehr infiltrated Spindle. Churchill went to England on 23–24 March 1943 and on 15 April parachuted back into the mountains above Saint-Jorioz on the banks of Lake Annecy. However, he and Sansom were arrested two days later in St. Jorioz by Hugo Bleicher of Abwehr. Churchill and Sansom claimed they were a married couple and related to Winston Churchill to make themselves seem more valuable prisoners and less likely to be executed as spies. They were sent to different concentration camps, where they were tortured and sentenced to death, but both escaped execution.

Churchill was initially taken to the German barracks in Annecy, then to Fresnes, where he remained until 13 February 1944, when he was transferred to Berlin for questioning. On 2 May, he was sent to Sonderlager “A” Sachsenhausen, where he was held in solitary confinement for 318 days out of 11 months. On 1 April 1945, he was moved by train to Flossenbürg, 50 miles south-east of Bayreuth, where he was held for 3–4 days before being taken by truck and Black Maria on a 30-hour trip to Dachau where, rather than being taken to the notorious concentration camp, he was lodged in a brothel along with other officers, and there made the acquaintance of Gen. Garibaldi and his Chief of Staff Col. Ferraro. As an officer he was given better treatment than most of the 22,000 inmates of Flossenburg, who were forcibly evacuated on the 220 km death march to Dachau concentration camp, during which one third died. The next day, as the Americans were approaching Dachau, he and 30 other officers were taken by bus to Innsbruck, where he was held in the Straflager. They were joined by 140 other notable prisoners, including former Austrian Chancellor, Dr. Kurt Schuschnigg. On 24 April 1945, Churchill was taken from Dachau over the Brenner Pass to Villabassa (Niederdorf in the Tyrol), together with many other prominent concentration camp inmates from different countries,[5] where the SS left the prisoners behind as American forces were approaching.[2]

On 27 April, he was taken 15 miles to the south to Wildsee, where on 4 May he was liberated by the Fifth United States Army. He was taken to Naples for debriefing by officers from the Crimes Investigations Departments and testified against his former captors, and on 12 May 1945 was flown back to England in the private plane of Air-Marshall Garrow.[2]

Odette was sent to Ravensbrück, where she endured terrible torture but revealed nothing to her captors.[6]

This officer carried out four clandestine missions into France between the end of 1941 and the spring of 1943. He was first landed by submarine in the south of France in December 1941 with the mission of contacting the principal organisers in the unoccupied zone, to bring them directives, remedy their various difficulties, improve communications and arrange help for arrested members of the organisation. This involved much travel and dangerous liaisons activity, but CHURCHILL carried out the mission with complete success and return to England in early February 1942.

His second mission was to organise the infiltration of a number of agents by sea into the South of France. Although this involved a short stay in France, it was nevertheless a delicate and hazardous task. It was mainly due to CHURCHILL's courage and resourcefulness that the operation was successfully carried out.

In April 1942, he was parachuted into France as chief liaison officer to a large resistance group in the south. He worked here for several months organising parachute dropping operations and the reception of agents by sea on the Mediterranean coast. His operations were always well organised and he took great personal risks to ensure the safe disposal of infiltrated agents.

In March 1943, Capt. Churchill paid a short visit to England for consultation. Two months after his return to France in May 1943, he was arrested. By that time, he had decentralised the organisation to such an extent that his work could be continued by others. He was released by Allied troops in Germany in May 1945.

Capt. Churchill worked tirelessly and unselfishly over a long period in very trying conditions, showing outstanding courage, leadership and organising ability, which earned him the respect and admiration of all who came in contact with him. It is strongly recommended that he is appointed a Companion in the Distinguished Service Order.

—  Maj. Gen. C. McV. Gubbins – Recommendation for DSO [2]


Peter Churchill and Odette Sansom were married in 1947, but divorced in 1956. Churchill continued to live in France after the war, settling in Le Rouret near Cannes, where he worked in real estate, and lived there until his death in 1972.

Books by Peter Churchill[edit]


External links[edit]