Sixth form students learn about the WW2 secret agent later to be called "France's James Bon
For the fourth consecutive year Dr Chris Warne - Director of Sussex University's Resistance Studies Network - and Secret WW2's co-founder Martyn Cox hosted a special Study Day arranged by the university's Widening Participation team as part of its First-Generation Scholars scheme.
This is always timed for the run-up to the annivesary of D-Day, and attended by pupils and teaching staff from schools across the south of England.
As with previous years, the focus was on SOE's "Salesman 2" team which included the now iconic female agent Violette Szabo and Robert "Bob" Maloubier. They and their two SOE comrades - organiser Philippe Liewer and wireless operator Jean-Claude Guiet - had parachuted into the Limousin area of France immediately after D-Day.
Their mission was to involve thousands of local resisters in sabotaging the movement north of German reinforcements which were urgently needed in Normandy to counter the Allied invasion on June 6th 1944. The notorious "Das Reich" Panzer division - consisting of many thousands of men with tanks and support vehicles - had been based in south west France and, although it couldn't be prevented from heading north to Normandy, "Das Reich" could certainly be slowed down.
A number of SOE teams has been specifically tasked to arm and train French resisters along the routes north which Das Reich had to take, and Bob Maloubier's special skills as an SOE arms instructor and saboteur were fully employed. Clandestine wireless messsages sent to 'London' resulted in parachute supply drops by the RAF and USAAF, so that the resisters could be armed with weapons and explosives. Bob soon instructed them in basic guerrilla tactics so as to help him hamper this tank division's progress by road - "on my best day I blew up seven bridges".
Bob and his SOE organiser Philippe Liewer would later accept the surrender of the German garrison in Limoges - and courtesy of Martyn Cox's unique oral history inteview with the late Bob Maloubier (in English) the sixth formers and their teachers were able to hear and see him recount these events first-hand.
They would also hear Bob's equally dramatic but very moving personal testimony of how all these wartime exploits would be forever marred by a single and very tragic aspect of Salesman 2's mission. Very shortly after their arrival in the Limousin, Violette Szabo was captured by a German patrol, and she would eventually be executed in the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp.
Later during the Study Day, having discussed Bob's filmed testimony in smaller groups, the sixth form students had the opportunity to ask Martyn and Chris Warne what proved to be some very well-considered and searching questions about these particular aspects of behind-the-lines Allied operations linked to D-Day.
Useful web links:
NB: A filmed version of Violette Szabo's story was released in 1958 and is still available on DVD: