SPY OXFORDSHIRE is the brand new exhibition at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock, running from Wednesday 28th October until 17th December 2021.
Daphne Park's career had begun and would end in Oxford. In 1943, very shortly after she'd graduated in French at Somerville College, she'd met Mary Monck who'd graduated the previous year and had returned to Somerville for a college function.
Mary was in FANY uniform, and Daphne was already determined to 'do her bit' for the war effort. She was particularly intrigued by what Mary did NOT say about her FANY duties, and so she soon also joined this unusual all-women unit.
That chance encounter would set the course for the remainder of Daphne's remarkable life. Her fluent French combined with an aptitude for coding were ideal qualifications for SOE, and she was soon working with its code supremo Leo Marks.
Daphne first trained French agents of SOE's RF Section, and then members of SOE's Jedburgh teams. She would later be with some of the Jeds at SOE's secret base in Algeria - code-named "Massingham" - prior to them parachuting into France.
Shortly after the end of the Second World War Daphne was stationed in Austria, and by that time was a Commandant with the FANY. After joining the Secret Intelligence Service in 1948 she went on to become a high-ranking MI6 officer. The first of her several senior roles was Head of Station in Moscow, and she was later dubbed the Queen of Spies - although one obituary writer has since described her as having looked more like Miss Marple than Mata Hari!
Ursula Corcoran, the Director of the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, explains how a film about Daphne Park - produced by Secret WW2's co-founder Martyn Cox - is being featured in the exhibition:
"Daphne's story, and a clip of the film, will be in the preview event; and as we progress and increase the emphasis on the Oxfordshire stories, she'll take on a more prominent role, not least because she is a woman and that voice is really key to reaching new audiences."
This film is part of a series produced for the Royal British Legion. The films are principally aimed at younger audiences, with each one focusing on the wartime service and post-WW2 experiences of a single Second World War veteran. Interviews had been filmed with some of the featured veterans especially for this project; but that was pre-pandemic and the lockdown meant future films could only be based on existing interviews.
The onset of Covid-19 also meant the Royal British Legion was unable to arrange large public gatherings for the commemorations of VE Day 75 and VJ Day 75. The subsequent reliance on its web site and social media for 'virtual' commemorations also increased the need for more veteran films than originally envisaged, with the end result that Martin Bisiker - founder of the Legasee Educational Trust - and Thread Films' Alex Farquharson and Mau Gris, would also be producing some of the RBL films.
In Martyn Cox's case this meant revisiting some of the WW2 veteran testimony he's filmed over almost two decades. By using archive footage, documents and photos it was possible to carefully craft excerpts into mini-documentaries, and he was particularly delighted to be able to return to his memorable and enjoyable filming session with Baroness Park of Monmouth.
"When Daphne retired from the Secret Intelligence Service she'd returned to Oxford as Principal of Somerville College. So in that respect her career had gone full circle.
"At the time I'd initially felt a tad wary about the prospect of interviewing someone who been trained to not give much away!
"No need to worry though, because the FANY CO soon let me know how much Daphne was looking forward to having her wartime memories filmed, and my cameraman Alan and I still talk about the thoroughly delightful time we'd spent with her..
"When it came to editing this short film I was keen to also get across a sense of how keen Daphne had been to make people aware of the wartime roles of the FANY.
"If you watch the film all the way through the closing on-screen credits, you'll hear some brief audio clips at the very end. These should really have been out-takes, but I slipped them in as a final reminder of Daphne's enthusiasm and delightful personality.
"My only regret with all these films has been that the Royal British Legion wanted them to be fairly short. Having said that, I did push my luck with the running times but still had to leave out quite a number of Daphne's accounts of other wartime experiences.
"They were all 'spiffing' stories and I'm sure many people keen on SOE history would love to hear them - so I hope it will be possible to produce a longer version one day ... the Director's Cut as they say!"
SPY OXFORDSHIRE: "Your Mission Starts Here" www.sofo.org.uk/spyoxfordshire/
The museum currently opens from Wednesday to Saturday from 11am to 5pm, and on Sundays from 2pm to 5pm
Daphne Park obituary -
QUEEN OF SPIES by Paddy Hayes
is available in hardback, and paperback, for Kindle, and as an audiobook -
Additional photographs courtesy of the archives of Somerville College, Oxford