The Secret WW2 Learning Network has yet again contributed to the annual events in Valençay, including the memorial ceremony organised by the Fédération Nationale Libre Résistance.
Libre Résistance is the Paris-based association which connects the family members and friends of the veteran agents and other former operatives of SOE's French Section and also their comrades from other WW2 secret services and French resistance organisations.
The SOE French Section national memorial at Valençay commemorates all of its 104 agents who perished, and it’s there because of its proximity to where the first F Section agent to parachute into France - Georges Bégué - had landed on the night of May 5/6th 1941.
Bégué (above left) had been dropped 'blind' in an early RAF 'special duties' operation, codenamed "Bombproof": http://beforetempsford.org.uk/5-may-1941/
His mission was to make secret contact with Max Hymans, a French patriot living in Valençay who'd already made contact with 'London' in the hope of gaining support from the British government in organising resistance against his country's German occupiers.
Fifty years later the French Section memorial was inaugurated in May 1991 and, ever since then on those same dates every year, Libre Résistance organises the annual ceremony plus additional events with the help of SECRET WW2.
Some of these take place at the Le Relais du Moulin, the hotel used by many attendees and also, coincidentally, adjacent to the former home of Max Hymans where he and SOE's Georges Bégué had first met in May 1941.
With 2018 being the RAF's Centenary year it was appropriate to acknowledge the RAF's crucial support during WW2 for SOE and the other Allied secret services and special forces units, and so a number of RAF100 features had been specially instigated for this May’s event in order to highlight two distinct aspects of the RAF's role -
* To pay tribute to the airmen from the various Special Duties squadrons who'd perished during clandestine air operations; and also * To highlight the SOE agents who’d been recruited from the RAF, RAFVR and the WAAF - some of who were killed, and so are named on the Valençay memorial.
Saturday 5th May - On the afternoon prior to the day of the actual ceremony, a special two-part presentation was made by SECRET WW2 Trustee Paul McCue and the Charity's co-founder Martyn Cox. Paul's talk highlighted the individual stories of ten courageous RAF men and women who became SOE agents. None had happy endings because all are amongst the names listed on the Valençay memorial, which means they'd lost their lives - but all were remarkable and inspiring.
Martyn Cox then showed a specially made film featuring excerpts from his interviews with the late Hugh Verity and Len Ratcliff, both of 161 Sqn; and also from two of Hugh's Lysander passengers - the F Section agent Lise de Baissac, and the RAF evader Fred Gardiner who was repatriated thanks to the Possum escape line.
Their personal testimony vividly conveyed how 161 Sqn and also the RAF's 138 (Special Duties) Squadron operated their clandestine supply and pick-up flights for SOE and SIS from RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire, with 161 Sqn’s Lysanders using a forward base at RAF Tangmere near Chichester.
Sunday 6th May - The memorial ceremony itself took place at 11am.
Additional wreaths were laid this year by Sue and Dave Woodard on behalf of the Tempsford Veterans and Relatives Association (TVARA); by Mel Coates on behalf of the Station Commander and personnel of RAF Odiham; by RAF members of the Joint Forces Intelligence Group (JFIG); and by Duncan Stuart CMG in memory of all the personnel of the RAF's wartime Special Duties squadrons who lost their lives.
Click HERE for more reports and photos, and also for a short video featuring excerpts from the ceremony.
The details of all of the 104 agents named on the memorial can be found on Paul's web site: www.paulmccuebooks.com/the-valen-ay-104-project