6 March 2003 releases

SOE Agents' Personal Files

(HS 9)

The final transfer of records of the Special Operations Executive to The National Archives consists of the Personal Files (PFs) of SOE agents and other staff. The first of these PFs to be released to the public are included in this month's press event.

Personal Files

PFs typically consist of a mix of material, and may contain both regular personnel information (for example, service forms, management assessments, medical reports, leave or discharge papers and photographs) and operational or policy material.

The operational or policy material on agents' files may include reports of their activities overseas, made by them or by colleagues, and, where the agent was lost behind enemy lines, the results of investigations by SOE staff at the end of the war to discover the agent's fate.

Records released this month

The transfer of records into HS 9 is being made in two parts. The first part covers PFs arranged alphabetically from A to Ma; the second transfer, covering Ma to Z, is presently being processed. The following whole pieces are being released immediately from the first block of records.

HS 9/42-44 Joseph Antoine France ANTELME
HS 9/127-128 Robert Marcel Charles BENOIST
HS 9/149 Emanuel BIERER & Helen Anna Agate BIERER (née THORMANN)
HS 9/183 Andrée Raymonde BORRELL
HS 9/289 William John CHALK
HS 9/296 Robert Arthur CHAPMAN
HS 9/314-315 Peter Morland CHURCHILL
HS 9/347 Adolphus Richard COOPER
HS 9/421-425 Henri Alfred Eugene DERICOURT
HS 9/612 Christine GRANVILLE
HS 9/738 Marcel Françoise Raphael HOMET

In the case of DERICOURT (whose MI5 files have already been released), investigations into his case continued well after SOE was closed down, and his PF became part of a file that was computerised at a later date, and the original destroyed. It was considered essential for the history of and historical research into SOE that it should be reconstituted. It is that reconstituted PF which is now released.

Personal Files missing from the HS 9 list

The catalogue list for HS 9 will include all of the files that have been transferred to The National Archives and will, in due course, be released to the public. Students of SOE and its work will be aware of a number of individuals who worked for SOE but whose names do not appear in the list. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, a very large number of SOE PFs were destroyed at or just after the end of the war, especially those of junior SOE staff seconded to SOE from the armed services and SOE's ancillary civilian staff. A few more were lost in the fire in the SOE's premises in Baker Street after the War.

Secondly, it is thought that where SOE staff or agents went on to work for other branches of government after the war, their PFs may have been removed from the collection and the papers passed on to the next organisation for which the member of staff worked. It is therefore possible that some service papers of SOE agents and staff originally contained in the PFs may exist in other personnel records series maintained by the relevant government departments, from which they are not releasable.

Why other Personal Files are closed, and how to obtain the release of further files

The records released this month all consist of cases where a single HS 9 piece consists of part of one or one whole PF, and the individuals concerned are either known to be deceased (or in the case of DERICOURT, to be legally deceased) or were born more than 100 years ago. Most pieces in HS 9, in contrast, contain the PFs of several people, and this means that the position regarding their closure is more complicated.

Because of the sensitive personal nature of much of the material contained in the PFs, the Lord Chancellor agreed to the closure of these files during the lifetime of the personnel concerned. In practice, this has been implemented to ensure that, where it is not known that the agent or member of staff is deceased (either from the file itself or from other reliable sources) the file will remain closed for 100 years from the date of birth of the person concerned. In many cases, it is not possible to establish the date of birth from the information contained in the PF - and where the date of birth is not known a latest probable date of birth of 1930 has been assigned. Where researchers are able to demonstrate either that the person whose file they wish to examine was, in fact, born more than 100 years ago, or is deceased, then The National Archives will make the relevant record available.

However, the practical difficulties caused by the arrangement of the records mean that this cannot be done instantly. For most of the pieces in HS 9 there are the records of a number of individuals held together as a single piece. The record of an agent known to have died in 1944, for example, would be kept closed because it is part of a piece containing the file of an agent born in 1920 and not known to be deceased. It will be possible for The National Archives to separate each piece into separate producible items, but the number of pieces involved means that this cannot be done immediately as The National Archives does not have the necessary resources to complete the work. Instead, where researchers wish to see a particular PF, and the individual concerned is known to be deceased or born more than 100 years ago, then application to see the file should be made to The National Archives directly. The National Archives will make the item available following such a request if we are satisfied that the file does not relate to a living person aged less than 100 years. Researchers should note that this process will take an estimated two weeks to complete before the record can be made available.

If living agents or SOE staff wish to see the record of their own service, this can be done. Again, they will need to apply directly to The National Archives providing evidence of their identity, whereupon The National Archives will make the record available to them. These records will not, however, be made available to general researchers during the lifetime of the individual concerned, unless the individual, having seen his or her own file, indicates to The National Archives in writing that it can be so opened.

The contact details for researchers or former SOE agents or staff wishing to request access to a file are: Howard Davies, Records Management Department, The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU; howard.davies@nationalarchives.gov.uk.

France ANTELME 1900-1945

(HS 9/42-44)

France Antelme was a Mauritian businessman of British descent who was first involved in the work of SOE during the British invasion of Madagascar in 1942. His work in this operation led to him being picked for a 1942-43 mission to Northern France, and two subsequent missions into France. He was arrested on landing for the final of these missions, and was murdered by his captors in 1945.

HS 9/44 is Antelme's main file and contains a reports and correspondence about Antelme's debriefs following his missions to France, including assessments of the situation in France at the time and reports on contacts with other agents. The file contains some medical notes, correspondence relating to Antelme's award of an OBE and recommendations for French decorations. Also included is the SOE battle casualty form reporting his arrest when dropped at the start of his third mission in February 1944. The file contains numerous photographs of Antelme, and correspondence with his family concerning his arrest and efforts to discover his fate.

HS 9/42 contains correspondence and reports relating to Antelme's first two missions to France, including his own reports and assessments.

HS 9/43 contains correspondence relating to Antelme's recruitment, and his involvement in operations in Madagascar, including his own reports, and assessments of his performance in training. Also includes operational instructions for his missions into France, and details of his assumed identity as 'Antoine', and copies of the messages relayed by Germans playing back a captured SOE wireless set asserting that Antelme had injured his skull on landing and SOE analysis of these messages.

Robert BENOIST 1895-1944

(HS 9/127-128)

Benoist served during the First World War in the French infantry and then as a reconnaissance and (briefly) fighter pilot in the Armée de l'Air, during which time he shot down one German plane, and was himself shot down, landing between the two front lines. Demobilised in August 1919, he followed his first passion and soon found work as a racing driver, winning his first Grand Prix victory in France in 1925. He retired from racing after victory in the 1937 Le Mans 24-hour race.

Benoist was contacted by William Grover-Williams, a friend and another former racing driver, who had joined SOE and was sent into France in May 1942, and they worked together as the Chestnut network, seeking to establish sabotage cells. Chestnut was swept up after the collapse of the Prosper network, and Benoist was arrested in August 1943, but immediately escaped again, and was flown out of France later that month. A second mission, named Clergyman, lasted from October 1943 to February 1944, before he returned again to London. His final mission, from March 1944, ended with his arrest in June of that year. He was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp where he was executed in September.

HS 9/127 includes reports of Benoist's debriefing interviews after his return from France in 1943, where he gives details of conditions in France and of his arrest and escape. There are papers relating to his cover while in France, his security codes, his will and other operational administrative details (including photographs of Benoist). There is an SOE battle casualty form reporting his arrest in June 1944, and subsequent paperwork recording SOE's attempts to establish Benoist's fate and the circumstances of the demise of his Clergyman circuit.

HS 9/128 contains several photographs of Benoist, mission pro formas summarising each of his three missions and administrative details for settling his affairs, including payment of a pension to his widow and further reports piecing together the circumstances of his final arrest and death. The file also includes record cards noting details of the activities of Benoist's relatives in various capacities.

Emanuel BIERER b 1885 & Helen BIERER b 1884

(HS 9/149)

Mr and Mrs Emanuel Bierer were living as exiles in Istanbul before the outbreak of the Second World War. Their nationality was in some doubt, he having been born in Austrian Poland and she being a German. His pre-war training was as an electrical engineer. Emanuel Bierer was half-Jewish, and had been collaborating with British agents in Turkey to distribute anti-Nazi propaganda material before the Turkish authorities expelled him as a suspected British agent in 1942.

After deportation to Palestine, the British consul at Jerusalem seized the Bierers' passports and they were interned, before being sent to East Africa in 1943. SOE accepted some responsibility for supporting the Bierers, providing them with financial support in Palestine and afterwards, and subsequently seeking to sort out the tangle of their nationality and repatriation. They were eventually handed on to a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration displaced persons facility in Khartoum. Their final fate is not known.

HS 9/149 contains some detail of the Bierers' service as collaborators in Istanbul, but deals principally with the administrative difficulties encountered in processing them after their deportation from Turkey and in trying to establish their national identities, and offers an interesting case study of the uncertain existence followed by exiles from Germany and central Europe in this period. The file contains photographs of both husband and wife.

Andrée BORRELL 1919-1944

(HS 9/183)

Andrée Borrell, alias "Denise", was a shop assistant who trained as a nurse on the outbreak of the Second World War and joined the French resistance after the surrender of France. She escaped to Portugal in December 1940, and worked at the Free French Propaganda Office in Lisbon until 1942, when she travelled to London and was recruited by SOE.

Borrell and Lise de Baissac became the first woman agents to be parachuted into France in September 1942, and Borrell moved to Paris to join the Prosper network run by Francis Suttill. She was arrested in June 1943 and sent to Fresnes prison, where she was held until being transported to Germany in May 1944. She was murdered at Natzweiler concentration camp in July 1944.

HS 9/183 contains papers relating to Borrell's recruitment, including the MI6 assessment, and papers relating to her mission, including her cover story, her will, the list of possessions she was to be dropped with and her final operation instructions. The file includes SOE battle casualty forms and several photographs of Borrell in FANY uniform. The file ends with correspondence relating to winding up Borrell's affairs after the war, paperwork trying to establish her fate, including a report of April 1946 by Vera Atkins, and recommendations for posthumous honours.

William CHALK b 1899

(HS 9/289)

William Chalk served in the First World War in the infantry, and enlisted with the Royal Corps of Signals in 1940. He was recruited to SOE in 1941, and served as an expert signals planning officer in Egypt, India and, briefly in 1945, Paris. Chalk was in charge of establishing the MO 4 signals intelligence network in the Balkans from Cairo. He was demobilised in 1946.

Chalk's personal file at present remains closed (see 'Why other PFs are closed…' above) but HS 9/289, the supplementary annex to his personal file, is now open. It contains: a collection of photographs of signals operations work in Calcutta, including transmitting and receiving stations and personnel; plans, silks and micro-copies of plans, schedules and codes to be used by agents in the field: maps showing the receiving and transmitting range of the Calcutta station; and papers on the development of signals planning work in SOE.

Robert CHAPMAN b 1901

(HS 9/296)

Chapman was a former Belgian soldier who rejoined the Belgian forces in England in October 1942 (having escaped from Belgium, where he worked as an export trader, through France and Spain) and was recruited into

 SOE in December that year by Hardie Amies. He was trained as a field wireless operator and flew into France in December 1943. After his circuit leader was arrested in May 1944, Chapman continued to communicate with London and took temporary charge of the circuit, before returning to the UK in December 1944, having fallen ill with impetigo.

HS 9/296 contains papers detailing Chapman's escape from occupied Europe, and correspondence about his reliability and character during training. There are papers detailing his cover story, and the dispute between the British and Belgian forces over the need to give Chapman a commission in the British Army. After returning from France, Chapman made several reports on the subject of wireless security and procedure in the field, and there are copies of these on the file, which throw light on the experiences of the wireless operator in the field. The file also contains correspondence about disputes between Chapman and the British authorities after his return from France (over such matters as importing quantities of perfume over the duty free limit), Chapman's medical condition, and the security concerns over the circumstances in which Chapman's reports were written. The file also includes the paper recommending the award of a BEM to Chapman. There are several photographs of Chapman on the file, and a Soldier's Service Pay Book issued in the name of Cardinal, one of Chapman's aliases.

Peter CHURCHILL 1909-1972

(HS 9/314-315)

Peter Churchill joined SOE having previously served as an intelligence officer. His first mission to France began in January 1942 when supplied funds to the French Resistance and assessed the potential for Britain to help the resistance movement. He returned briefly to France in August 1942 and then again to set up the Spindle network with André Girard to direct the delivery of arms and other supplies by air to the Resistance. Churchill and Spindle's radio operator, Odette Sansom, were arrested in April 1943 when the network was infiltrated by spies. Under interrogation, they claimed to be married and related to Prime Minister Churchill, and this may have been a factor in their survival. Though both were tortured and sent to concentration camps, they survived the war and were subsequently married in 1947 (divorced 1955). Peter Churchill died in 1972.

HS 9/314 contains the papers relating to SOE's initial consideration of Churchill, his training notes (including reference to an accident in parachute training caused because he was not wearing his contact lenses), and operations instructions and cover story details for his first mission into France. There are reports of conditions in France made by Churchill on his return, and handwritten letters from Churchill to Major Buckmaster dated March and April 1942 discussing future operations. There is also a French identity card made out for Churchill under his alias Pierre Marc Chauvet, and various photographs of Churchill. There are planning and administrative papers relating to his second, brief, mission into France and a subsequent recommendation for an award of the Military Cross, made while he was engaged on his third mission. There are also some copy microfilm documents, and a number of reports written in the style of Damon Runyon.

HS 9/315 contains copies of radio messages exchanged between London and Churchill in early 1943, his interrogation report made after his return from France in 1943, and planning documents relating to his final mission of April 1943. There is some correspondence trying to establish Churchill's fate after his arrest, and letters between SOE and Churchill's parents reporting him to be in good health, even after his arrest, and subsequent minutes discussing when it would be best to break the news of his arrest to his family. Churchill's own report of his final mission, arrest and subsequent events is included. There is also one last report written in the style of Damon Runyon, and a script by Churchill for an intended BBC broadcast (in French), the text of a recommendation for the award of the Military Cross to Churchill, his SOE service record and several photographs.

Adolphus COOPER b 1899

(HS 9/347)

Adolphus Cooper joined the French Foreign Legion at the age of 15, subsequently serving in the French, Italian and British armies prior to serving as an administrator in the Post Office dealing with international telephone communications. He joined SOE in 1941, and served as an agent in North Africa until arrested and interned in 1942. He escaped from internment in Vichy France in November 1942 and returned to Britain through Spain and Gibraltar. Cooper also served in Sicily and Italy in 1943-44, but no appropriate work could be found for him, and he was returned to the UK. After the War, he resumed his peacetime occupation and wrote several accounts of his wartime and pre-war experiences.

HS 9/347 contains papers relating to Cooper's recruitment, correspondence on his arrest in Oran, Cooper's report of his activities in North Africa, France and Spain made after this return to Britain and the SOE debriefing report. There is also detailed correspondence about the bad planning of and lessons to be learned from his mission in North Africa. The file contains a small number of photographs of Cooper in military uniform.

Henri DERICOURT, 1909-1962

(HS 9/421-425)

Dericourt, alias "Gilbert", was a French civilian pilot who came to the UK via the Middle East. He arrived in 1942 by boat with another French pilot, Leon Doulet, in the belief that they would be employed by BOAC. Despite some uncertainty as to his reliability he was then taken on by SOE.

Dericourt became responsible for the movement of agents belonging to the Buckmaster network in and out of France, and first went into France in January 1943. Later in 1943 he was denounced as a double agent after the arrest of several SOE agents, but the subsequent investigation proved inconclusive. His case was helped by his success in extricating a senior British SOE officer, Nicholas Bodington, from France. Dericourt was tried and acquitted in France after the war on evidence gleaned from captured German documents. Though his body has never been found, Dericourt is assumed to have died in an air crash in Laos in 1962.

The five Dericourt files are not originals, but printed copies of a scanned computer record, which are sometimes, as a result, of poor quality and difficult to read. Apart from some administrative details about accounts matters, the files almost exclusively concern the allegations made against Dericourt and SOE efforts to establish the truth.

HS 9/421 contains correspondence from 1943-45 relating to the suspicions that Dericourt was a traitor, or at least unreliable. There are also some financial papers (accounts, receipts, requests for payment), material relating to a possible award for Dericourt, discussions about possible uses for him after this last mission and concerns about the security risk he might pose, some of Dericourt's reports of his operations, a vetting report from December 1942 recording "nothing against" him, and SOE's own original assessment of him.

HS 9/422 contains further correspondence about the case against Dericourt, including the report of his interrogation of 9 February 1944. There are also further accounting papers.

HS 9/423 contains further papers relating to the case against Dericourt.

HS 9/424 contains further papers relating to the case against Dericourt, including the report of his second interrogation by Nicholas Bodington of 11 February 1944.

HS 9/425 contains further papers relating to the case against Dericourt. These include papers questioning whether Bodington was also a German agent, and reports from the Metropolitan Police Special Branch who watched Dericourt's flat in Barons Court in spring and summer 1944, tailed Dericourt and his wife and investigated reports that he had installed a covert long-range wireless aerial on the roof of his flat.

Christine GRANVILLE 1915- 1952

(HS 9/612)

Christine Granville (as she became known), the daughter of Count Jerzy Skarbek, was in Ethiopia with her husband when Poland was invaded in September 1939. They went to Britain, from where Granville travelled to Hungary and made contact with a group known as the Musketeers fighting for Polish liberation. She was twice arrested, and twice escaped, before returning to Britain where she was recruited by SOE.

Granville parachuted into France in July 1944 to join the Jockey network headed by Francis Cammaerts. She played the key role in securing the release from captivity of Cammaerts and Xan Fielding when the allied landings took place in southern France in August 1944. After the war Granville did a number of jobs, including work as stewardess on the liner Rauhine where she met steward George Muldowney, who murdered her in June 1952. Muldowney was tried and executed for the crime in September 1952.

HS 9/612 contains reports of the first contacts between Granville and British intelligence (before the formation of SOE), and discussion of her plans to deliver propaganda material into Poland in 1939. It includes her report of conditions in occupied Poland, and detailed correspondence about her subsequent activities, including Cammaerts' reports of her numerous brave actions in France in July 1944, and her own statement of her role in securing the release from captivity of Cammaerts and Fielding. The file reveals that she was not vetted upon her initial introduction to British intelligence and in fact this procedure was not carried out until November 1944. The file contains operational orders for a planned liaison mission to the Polish home army in 1944, which never came off, and correspondence about possible further uses for Granville. The file includes correspondence about nominations for and awards of honours, including an OBE and George Medal. There is one photograph, duplicated, of her on the file.

Marcel HOMET b 1897

(HS 9/738)

Marcel Homet was the former topographer to the government of French Morocco, and a writer and noted explorer and expert on North Africa and Syria, and offered his services to SOE in Lisbon in 1941. After some time gathering information in Morocco, he resumed his work for a Portuguese university, as SOE was unable to find suitable employment for him. His resentment at this, and a tendency recorded on the file to be careless of confidences, meant that SOE was worried that he might become a security risk. He was offered to the Free French forces and travelled with his wife to the UK in 1942 to join them.

HS 9/738 includes correspondence about Homet's original approach to SOE and discussions about the best way to use his talents, and copies of his correspondence about conditions in Morocco with the president of Coimbia University in Lisbon, for whom he worked. The file goes on to discuss the security risk Homet presented and consider ways to neutralise this threat. There are several letters from Homet outlining his position, and also a report of one debriefing interview with his wife. There are also photographs of Mr and Mrs Homet.

Photographs in the files

HS 9/44 France Antelme
HS 9/127-8 Robert Benoist
HS 9/149 Mr and Mrs Emanuel Bierer
HS 9/183 Andrée Borrell
HS 9/289 Signals operations at the SOE station in Calcutta
HS 9/296 Robert Chapman
HS 9/314-5 Peter Churchill
HS 9/347 Adolphus Cooper
HS 9/612 Christine Granville
HS 9/738 Mr and Mrs Marcel Homet

Maps and artefacts

HS 9/289 Tracing of a world map, hand coloured, purpose no longer clear; tracing of a map of the near, middle and far east, centred on Calcutta showing pattern of SOE radio communications from there. Silk broadcasting schedules for use by agents in the field.

HS 9/296 Soldiers Service Pay Book issued to Robert Chapman under his alias 'Cardinal'

HS 9/315 French identity card issued to Peter Churchill under his alias 'Chauvet'