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75th Anniversary Service In Memory Of SOE Agents

Sunday 2nd February 2020 saw the monthly Brookwood Last Post ceremony at Brookwood Military Cemetery, near Woking in Surrey. This coincided with the 75th anniversary of the deaths (between 25 January and 5 February 1945), by execution at Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, of three women agents of French Section, SOE: Violette Szabó, Denise Bloch and Lillian Rolfe.

Lilian, as a former WAAF, is commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, Violette and Denise are both listed on the Memorial to the Missing, 1939-1945 at Brookwood, together with many other SOE agents, chiefly from French Section. The Memorial lists more agents, with no known grave, than at any other location.

The Charity therefore conducted a short service at 2.15pm in advance of the main Last Post ceremony, in effect establishing what is now hoped to be an annual event to commemorate F Section SOE.

Agents represented on the day by the attendance of family members were Major France Antelme (family group included his son, Gaston); Section Officer Yvonne Cormeau (a survivor - represented by her daughter, Yvette); Ensign Eliane Plewman; Section Officer Lilian Rolfe (the family group included Secret WW2 Friends Barbara Cronk, and Malcolm Rolfe; and Captain Arthur Steele (son, Ivan).

The FANY representatives, in uniform, were Karen Bermingham and Elaine Gunstone, who read the Exhortation and Kohima epitaph. The Secret WW2 ceremony was introduced by Chair, Louisa Russel and Trustee Paul McCue outlined the fates of those being remembered. Wreaths, flowers and poppy crosses were placed.

The five agents represented by families, together with Ensign Denise Bloch and Ensign Violette Szabó, were then individually remembered at the Last Post Ceremony which immediately followed. A poem, from the collection Leaves of Buchenwald by F section radio operator Lt Maurice Pertschuk, was read out.

The total attendance was around 80 people - which threatened to overwhelm the hospitality kindly offered afterwards by our friends Eddie and Dagmar at the adjacent Trench Experience. It was a moving occasion to witness families meeting each other and discussing the possibility, if not probability, that their F Section ancestors had met during the war. Other Friends and supporters of this Charity who attended included Carol Brown, Muriel Jonas, Ray Windmill, Joy Hanauer, Nick Fox, Ann Palmer, Mark Browne, Carole Yates and Geoff Moody.

Tony McCallum very kindly took the photos, and many more can be seen here:

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