Yolande Beekman

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Yolande Beekman
YolandeBeekman.jpg
In WAAF uniform during WW2.
Nickname(s) Mariette, Kilt (SOE codenames)
Yvonne (SOE alias)
Born (1911-01-07)7 January 1911
Paris, France
Died 13 September 1944(1944-09-13) (aged 32)
Dachau concentration camp
Allegiance Britain
Service/branch Special Operations Executive
Years of service 1940-1944
Rank Ensign (WAAF)
Unit Musician (SOE)
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Croix de Guerre
Mentioned in Dispatches

Yolande Elsa Maria Beekman (7 January 1911 – 13 September 1944) was a British heroine of World War II who served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and the Special Operations Executive.[1][2]

Beekman was a member of SOE's Musician circuit in occupied France during World War II where she operated as a wireless operator until arrested by the Gestapo.[3] She was subsequently executed at the Dachau concentration camp.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born as Yolande Elsa Maria Unternährer to a Swiss father and an English mother in Paris.[2] As a child, Beekman moved to London and grew up fluent in English, German, and French. She had a gentle disposition and liked to draw, so expected she would become a designer or illustrator.[4] After schooling in England she was sent to a Swiss finishing school.[2]

Wartime service[edit]

WAAF and SOE[edit]

When World War II broke out Beekman joined the WAAF where she trained as a W/T operator. Because of her language skills and wireless expertise, she was recruited by the SOE for work in occupied France, officially joining the SOE on 15 February 1943. She trained with Noor Inayat Khan and Yvonne Cormeau.[2]

In 1943, she married Sergeant Jaap Beekman of the Netherlands Army, whom she had met on the W/T operator's course, but a short time after her marriage she said goodbye to her husband and was flown behind enemy lines in France. Beekman was landed in France on the night of 17/18 September 1943, flown in a Double Lysander aircraft in operation Millner.[2][5]

Lands in France[edit]

Westland Lysander Mk III (SD), the type used for special missions into occupied France during World War II.

In France, Beekman operated the wireless for Gustave Biéler, the Canadian in charge of the Musician circuit (network) at Saint-Quentin in the département of Aisne, using the codenames "Mariette" and "Kilt" (wireless codename), and the alias "Yvonne".[2] She became an efficient and valued agent who, in addition to her all important radio transmissions to London, took charge of the distribution of materials dropped by Allied planes.[2]

Beekman's first lodgings were with a long serving résistant and schoolmistress, Mlle Lefevre, but this could only be a temporary stay. At the beginning of October she moved to the house of Camille Boury, who worked at the Pharmacie Corteel, and lived on the corner of Rue Baudelaire. Odette Gobeaux, who worked with Boury at the pharmacy, offered Beekman the draughty attic of her house to transmit from.[2]

She began quietly visiting Gobeaux's house in Rue de la Fère, letting herself in with her own key during the day, placing her set on a small table and passing the long aerial out through the window above. Interviewed after the war, Gobeaux remembered Beekman often waiting for the next transmission,lying on a divan with her head in a book, apparently unruffled by the possibility of arrest. Although many operators took the precaution of travelling with one or more bodyguards, she worked alone, which was undoubtedly a sign of her courage; Eugène Cordelette, one of MUSICIAN's lieutenants, later described Bieler and Beekman as being "both of the finest stuff imaginable", but her training should have left her more mindful of security.[2]

Following her instructions from London, Beekman transmitted using a pre‐arranged schedule (or "sked"), sending messages at specific times and frequencies three times a week. This was standard practice for SOE wireless operators in France, though most would try and set up several sets at different safe houses, switching between them to avoid detection (some safety improvements such as more flexible transmission skeds were introduced only after Beekman was sent to France). Operating from a single static radio post greatly increased the chances of being hunted down by German direction finding (D/F) teams, which were known to prowl the streets of major towns and cities across the country, and it's not clear why Beekman apparently didn't use additional hideouts – perhaps it was too difficult to find suitable locations in such a densely populated area, or she might have had technical problems with the wireless sets available.[2]

Beekman's steadfast and fearless approach had proved invaluable to the circuit, but her work was becoming riskier every day. German interception of radio signals had become very efficient by this time, and the regular times of her transmissions was helping her pursuers to gradually narrow down the area of the source. Beekman and Bieler spent Christmas Eve at the Bourys' house; they listened to the BBC and did their best to be festive. On Christmas Day she made contact with London as usual, but the following week a direction finding van was seen passing the house, an ominous sign that the net was closing in. She moved her set to the Boury house, where she was still living, but on 12 January Camille Boury noticed a man walking along the street, with his collar turned up and apparently listening to earphones. Beekman's radio signal had been traced to their block.[2]

She immediately packed up her set and moved again, this time to the Café Moulin Brulé, a lonely safe house on the north eastern edge of the city, on the northern bank of the canal. Shaken by her narrow escape, she could rely on the café owners sheltering her for the night.[2]

Arrest and execution[edit]

Arrest[edit]

The next day Bieler arrived at the café to discuss where she should go next, but the Gestapo were now ready to make their haul. Two men walked in and drew revolvers, arresting all those inside.[2]

Prison[edit]

Separated from Biéler (he was later executed), she was transported to Fresnes Prison several kilometres outside Paris. Again she was interrogated and brutalized repeatedly. In May 1944 she was moved with several other captured SOE agents to the civilian prison for women at Karlsruhe in Germany, where she encountered a prisoner named Hedwig Müller (a nurse arrested by the Gestapo in 1944). Müller said after the war that Beekman "didn't leave her cell much as she suffered badly with her legs."[6] She was confined there until September 1944, sharing a cell with Elise Johe (a Jehovah's Witness), Annie Hagen (arrested for working as a black marketeer) and Clara Frank (jailed for slaughtering a cow on her family farm without permission). While imprisoned, Beekman drew and embroidered. She would take a needle and prick her finger to use the blood as ink and draw on toilet paper as there was no paper and pencils.[7]

Execution at Dachau[edit]

US troops guarding main entrance to Dachau after liberation, 1945.

She was abruptly transferred to Dachau concentration camp with fellow agents Madeleine Damerment, Noor Inayat Khan, and Eliane Plewman and at dawn on the following morning, 13 September, the four women were executed.[8]

A Gestapo man named Max Wassmer was in charge of prisoner transports at Karlsruhe and accompanied the women to Dachau.[9] Another Gestapo man named Christian Ott gave a statement to American investigators after the war as to the fate of Beekman and her three companions.[10] 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.[11] 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 (the major) 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. The major had 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.[8]

Awards and honours[edit]

SOE Agents Memorial

Beekman's heroic actions were recognized by the government of France with the posthumous awarding of the Croix de Guerre. In addition, she is recorded on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, England and as one of the SOE agents who died for the liberation of France, she is listed on the "Roll of Honour" on the Valençay SOE Memorial in the town of Valençay, in the Indre département of France. A later memorial, the SOE Agents Memorial in Lambeth Palace Road (Westminster, London), is dedicated to all SOE agents.

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)[12]
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'.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "HS 9/114/2". The National Archives. Retrieved 2017-09-03. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "SOE Agent Profiles – Yolande Beekman". Nigel Perrin. Retrieved 2017-09-03. 
  3. ^ a b Kramer 1995.
  4. ^ Kramer 1995, p. 167.
  5. ^ Verity 2000, p. 201.
  6. ^ Helm 2005, p. 227.
  7. ^ Helm 2005, pp. 228-230.
  8. ^ a b Helm 2005, pp. 286-287.
  9. ^ Helm 2005, pp. 280.
  10. ^ Helm 2005, p. 283.
  11. ^ Helm 2005, pp. 284.
  12. ^ "Churchill's Spy School". Internet Movie Database. 2010. Retrieved 2017-09-08. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Helm, Sarah (2005). A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII. New York, US: 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.
  • 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).

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.  Information about female SOE agents in France including Borrel.
  • 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.
  • 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.  A source of information about the dozens of female agents sent into France during WW2 including Borrel.
  • Ousby, Ian (2000) [1999]. Occupation: The Ordeal of France, 1940–1944. New York, US: 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, US: 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, US: Arcade Publishing. ISBN 978-1-5597-0763-3.  Overview of Atkins' activity at SOE (served as Buckmaster's intelligence officer in the F Section).
  • Stroud, Rick (2017). Lonely Courage: The true story of the SOE heroines who fought to free Nazi-0ccupied France. New York, US: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-14711-5565-9.  Documents the activities of female SOE agents in France including Borrel.
  • 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 circuit chief executed by the Nazis in 1945.
  • 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.
  • 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]