|Died||23 April 1945
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany
|Service/branch||Special Operations Executive, FANY|
|Years of service||1942–1945|
|Rank||Field agent and guerrilla commander|
Yvonne Rudelatt (January 1897 – 23 April 1945) was a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II and worked as a courier for the French Section.
Rudellat was born in January 1897 in France, the youngest of ten children, most of whom died in infancy. She was the daughter of a wine-merchant, and when her domineering mother would allow it, Yvonne accompanied him on buying trips. After his death, Yvonne found herself unable to live with her mother anymore, and moved to London to get a job. While working at a chain store in Regent Street, she met a waiter from the Piccadilly Hotel, and the two were married in 1920. Alex Rudellat was nine years older than his eighteen-year-old bride, and had once been an undercover agent. In 1922, Yvonne gave birth to a baby girl and named her Constance Jacqueline. When the child was seven, Yvonne and Alex separated, but were friends, and shared time with their daughter.
Ten days after the declaration of war in 1939, Yvonne's seventeen-year-old daughter joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and later married a sergeant. Yvonne tried several times to join her daughter in the ATS, but was turned down because of her age. In 1942, at the age of forty-five, Yvonne was finally accepted and selected to train for the SOE, though no woman had ever been chosen as a leader, though many had proven themselves.
Rudelatt joined the SOE in 1942 and following her training, she left England for Gibraltar on 17 July 1942 under the codename Jacqueline and, after months of training, became the first woman SOE to be sent abroad. In terrible weather, she landed by small boat on the Riveria coast of France and travelled to Tours, close to the border of the Occupied Zone and Vichy France to act as a courier to the Prosper circuit. She and her partner, Pierre Culioli, controlled the group together, and carried out many successful operations against German-operated train lines and factories. Between August 1942 and June 1943, Rudelatt worked with the circuit as a courier and also specialised in sabotage and parachute drops. She was part of the team who sabotaged Chaigny power station and personally blew up two locomotives at Le Mans in March 1943.
With suspicions mounting, the two were openly pursued by German forces. On 21 June 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo whilst waiting for a parachute drop and was wounded during an attempt to escape; Pierre and Yvonne were trying to escape arrest in a car when a bullet hit her in the back of her head, knocking her unconscious. Pierre saw the amount of blood coming from the wound, and since Yvonne was unresponsive, he decided to kill himself rather than be taken and tortured. He slammed the vehicle into a ditch and then the side of a cottage, but the two woke up in a hospital at Blois hours later. Yvonne was told that her injury wasn't life-threatening, and that the bullet hadn't pierced her brain, but that it would be unsafe to remove it. She was taken to Ravensbrück, on the same transport as another female resistance heroine, Odette Sansom.
During World War II, over 8,000 Frenchwomen were sent to prison camps in Germany, and only 800 returned to France. In February 1945, 2,500 elderly and ill women were sent from Ravensbrück to what they thought would be a 'convalescent camp,' but which was actually Belsen. Yvonne, who had not given the German authorities her real name, possibly suffering from amnesia, was recorded as "Jacqueline Gautier". She died there after contracting typhus on or around 23 April 1945, shortly after the camp was liberated. As she had successfully maintained her alias of Madame Gautier, and she was extremely ill when the Allied troops arrived, she was not identified as a British SOE agent and was buried in a mass grave.
Honours and decorations
Today, she is commemorated by an obelisk at Romorantin in the Loire Valley, and by a plaque at the Valençay SOE Memorial, where her name is included in the Valençay Memorial Roll of Honor, along with 91 men and 12 other women who died for their country.