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Canadian agents of French Section SOE honoured at Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey

The annual Armistice Day remembrance event held at Brookwood by the Canadian High Commission and the Canadian Armed Forces had, for the first time, an SOE element on 11th November 2017. Despite steady rain, some 200-300 military personnel, veterans and civilians attended the main ceremony (addressed by Janice Charette, Deputy High Commissioner) adjacent to the Canadian graves plot.

At the ceremony’s conclusion, the Secret WW2 Learning Network invited an officer of the Canadian Intelligence Corps and an NCO who had served in Canada’s airborne forces, to place poppy crosses and photographs of two Canadian agents of French Section who are listed on the nearby Memorial to the Missing 1939-45.

Captain François Deniset, from Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Artillery and arrived with the Canadian Army in England in 1940. He joined French Section, SOE in August 1943 and parachuted into France in February 1944, to act as an arms instructor to the PHONO circuit of Henri Garry.

His code name was MARINER and his field name was Jean-Jacques. Tragically, he landed to a reception party of enemy forces, since the Germans had arranged his drop through the captured W/T set of Noor Inayat-Khan. He is believed to have been among the SOE agents executed by firing squad at Gross-Rosen concentration camp in late July, or early August, 1944.

Deniset’s daughter, Jacqui Pycroft, and members of her family (Deniset had married an English girl, Joan Pycroft, in 1941 before joining SOE) attended the ceremony at the French Section memorial in Valençay, France, in 2016.

Captain John Macalister, from Guelph, Ontario, served in the Intelligence Corps of the British Army before joining French Section in November 1942. He parachuted with his friend, fellow-Canadian and circuit leader, Captain Frank Pickersgill, into France in June 1943. His code name was PLUMBER and his field name Valentin.

They were safely received by members of a sub-group of the PHYSICIAN circuit, but after only five days were arrested at a German security checkpoint. Macalister (still with Pickersgill) was among a group of 16 captured agents hanged at Buchenwald concentration camp in September 1944.

Both Deniset and Macalister are commemorated at Brookwood as having no known grave. Photos courtesy of Jacqui Pycroft and Paul McCue

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