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Special mission in France for 'student' secret agent Debbey

Two days before the last episode of BBC Two's SECRET AGENT SELECTION: WW2 one of its 'student' SOE agents was able to pay a unique personal tribute to the 'real' agents.

While taking part in this 'immersive history' series, Debbey Clitheroe and her fellow participants had clearly been inspired by what they'd learnt about SOE via the books they'd read and also the many previously classified documents they'd obtained from The National Archives at Kew. So Debbey had jumped at the opportunity when invited to attend the annual ceremony at the Valençay memorial in central France which pays tribute to the agents of SOE's French Section who died during WW2.

As if that wasn't enough, Bill Beauclerk - the vice-president of Libre Résistance, whose daughter Charlotte had also taken part in the BBC series - had then invited Debbey to take part in the actual ceremony, by helping read out of the names of all 104 agents who lost their lives.

This traditional and solemn task normally falls to veterans or their descendants, but on this occasion Debbey was privileged to follow on from the SOE veteran Noreen Riols once she'd read part way through the list of names, and then Bill took over from Debbey to complete the reading of the names.

Bill's late father, Ralph Beauclerk, was an SOE wireless operator in France; and as a young French speaker in wartime Britain, Noreen had worked for SOE as a civilian - first at its Baker Street HQ and then at the Beaulieu 'finishing school'. So Debbey was able to hear about SOE first-hand, and she also met other sons and also the daughters of SOE veterans, plus several specialist historians. All in all it proved to be an enormous treat to hear so many anecdotes from those 'in the know’.


Debbey's invitation to the Valençay weekend had been instigated by SECRET WW2 co-founder Martyn Cox, and it was clearly a case of 'mission accomplished' because Debbey later wrote -

"It was an honour to attend the Valençay memorial and a great privilege to be asked to read out a number of the agents names during the ceremony.

"I met the most wonderful, friendly and remarkable people who are all doing a tremendous job in organising and attending these events, which are so important in ensuring that all those involved with SOE are never forgotten."

What's more ... that hadn't been the end of Debbey's brief French trip. She was to return to Britain the next day by air from Toulouse, which provided the additional bonus of being able to stop off en route in Salon-la-Tour - about 45 minutes drive south of Limoges - so that Martyn could show her the location of the capture of Violette Szabó in June 1944 by a German patrol.

There's been a memorial at this spot for several years, but they discovered that the previously rather modest mounting for its commorative plaque - with which Martyn had become familiar from several previous visits - has now been replaced by a far more imposing grey stone slab.

In the last episode of SECRET AGENT SELECTION: WW2 Debbey had been seen visiting Natzweiler-Struthof, the German-run concentration camp in France where four female SOE agents were executed; and, even though the filming for the series was completed almost a year ago, Debbey and some of the other participants have continued to develop their interests in people and places involved in these aspects of WW2 history.

So let's hope this all too brief trip will inspire Debbey - and the others - to visit even more SOE-related locations in Britain and abroad.


Images: Martyn Cox - Debbey Clitheroe - Fabrice Dury - Titania Redon - Nick Fox - Paul McCue


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