15 September 2010

WWII Heroine Dies Alone In Obscurity

It is a sad truism that those who are most worthy of our admiration only receive it after death. Take Eileen Nearne for example...
Her secret is out. But it is too late for Eileen Nearne to bask in the glory Britain loves to bestow on its Second World War heroes.

She died alone, uncelebrated, on Sept. 2 of a heart attack at 89. Only on Tuesday did the nation learn of her bravery behind enemy lines: She went on a clandestine mission to France in 1944 at the tender age of 23 to operate a wireless transmitter that served as a vital link between the French Resistance and war planners in London.

Nearne posed as a French shop girl. She meanwhile helped co-ordinate supply lines and weapons drops in advance of the D-Day invasion that marked the beginning of the liberation of Europe, then stayed on the job until the Nazis caught her in July 1944 and sent her to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. She later escaped after being sent to a smaller nearby camp.

The accounts of her extraordinary deeds — her grace under fire — were made public by military historians and special forces veterans who had read Nearne’s secret files and knew what she had accomplished but declined to discuss. Her wartime role was not publicly acknowledged until local officials went into her apartment after her death and found a treasure trove of medals, records and memorabilia, including French currency used during the war.

"She was an excellent agent, very imaginative, but very unobtrusive, and that is a very important quality," said Royal Air Force veteran Beryl Escott, author of an upcoming book on the Special Operations Executive, set up by wartime leader Winston Churchill to infiltrate mainland Europe and provide support for Resistance forces. "It was vital and dangerous work, especially for wireless operators."

When Nearne was caught, according to Escott and others, she was able to endure water torture without cracking.

After the war, Escott said, Nearne and the other SOE agents who had survived tried to return to their normal lives in England and rarely discussed what they had been through. "They wanted to go back to their old life if they could," she said.

But Nearne maintained her secrecy until the very end, never discussing her wartime exploits with her neighbours in Torquay, the seaside town 300 kilometres southwest of London where she lived until her death.

She was facing a pauper’s funeral, but all that changed when officials found the medals and records linking her to clandestine operations. Now plans are being made for a funeral that will, officials say, give Nearne the recognition her heroism merits.
By: Shelldrake

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