Valençay 2019: A royal event plus a grand tour

Several Friends and supporters regularly attend the annual F Section Memorial event at Valençay in central France which commemorates the 104 agents of French Section, SOE who did not return from active service.

This normally takes place each May 6th, but this year was on the 7th to accommodate the visit of Princess Anne, The Princess Royal in recognition of SOE's D-Day related roles in this 75th anniversary year.

The event is staged by our partner organisation, Paris-based Libre Résistance with support elements provided by The Secret WW2 Learning Network - several of our members also being Libre Résistance members.

A group of nine 'Secret WW2' Friends and supporters travelled from Britain to Valençay in two hired vehicles with an itinerary that included: 4th May - visit to village where Violette Szabó, F Section agent, lived with her aunt as a child, and her school, named after her in the rue Violette Szabo, in Noyelles-sur-Mer. On to Chartres and its famous Son et Lumière for the night.

5th May - a lunchtime stop in Blois, viewing of the hospital where Yvonne Rudellat, another F Section agent, was held after her capture. Joined by Colonel Nick Fox, Friend of Secret WW2 and board member of Libre Résistance, for briefings in Dhuizon and Bracieux on the capture of Macalister, Pickersgill, Rudellat and Culioli of F Section.

The group was also joined by Wing Commander Peter Dixon, Friend of Secret WW2, and his wife Ingrid. On to a rendezvous with a coach party of other members from a London-based club, Libre Résistance and Secret WW2 and joint participation in a short memorial service for the five F Section agents (Macalister, Pickersgill, Rudellat, Byck and Makowski) named on the Monument aux Morts in the town of Romorantin-Lanthenay.

Magda Thomas, another of our Friends, read a poem in memory of Captain Stanisław Makowski who was tortured and killed in Romorantin.

Poppy crosses and a Star of David (for Muriel Byck) with photographs of the five agents were placed on behalf of Secret WW2. The Mayor of Romorantin-Lanthenay hosted a vin d'honneur after the ceremony before everyone continued to Valençay for a group evening meal. 6th May - Trustee Paul McCue led a joint coach party of 35 participants to the scene of Makowski's wounding and capture (and the killing of the two maquisards with him) in Neung-sur-Beuvron. Briefings on the way covered Muriel Byck's service and death.

A superb lunch was taken in the beautiful setting of the Chateau de Chissay before returning to Valençay for afternoon presentations by Paul (on the five OSS agents, seconded to F Section, listed at Valençay) and David Harrison, Secret WW2 supporter (on Georges Begué, first F Section agent to parachute into France).

The traditional 'Brits' Dinner' in the evening was followed by a midnight briefing by Nick Fox at the F Section Memorial, only slightly hampered by the floodlighting automatically going off at midnight! The aplomb with which Nick coped with the situation was indeed remarkable. Paul McCue proposed the toast (vin rouge provided by the Charity) to the 104 agents, making particular mention of Captain George Menzies (formerly Jean Mennesson).

Anna Menzies Caldwell, daughter, had been meant to travel from England with our party of nine, but had to pull out at the last minute.

7th May - during the main ceremony at the Valençay memorial, Chair Louisa Russell and Friend Steve Weiss (WW2 veteran who served behind the lines with an OSS group in France in 1944) laid wreaths on behalf of the Charity.

At the Royal Reception afterwards, in the Orangerie of the Chateau de Valençay, Nick Fox and Paul McCue were among the table hosts responsible for guiding and introducing HRH - who spoke to every single one of our attendees.

Following the reception and lunch our group of nine then headed for their final overnight stop in Troyes - the journey only marred by the breaking down, and subsequent abandonment, of one of the two hired vehicles. Somehow, all nine and luggage fitted into one people carrier, and on they went. 8th May - On the sardine-like return to the Channel Tunnel, drinks were taken in the Café (now Bar, but little-changed) du Moulin Brulé in Omissy, near Saint-Quentin, from where W/T operator Section Officer Yolande Beekman of F Section transmitted - and where she and her circuit organiser, Major Guy Biéler, were captured. In Saint-Quentin, the group viewed the three large villas at 8 - 12 rue Picard where the SD imprisoned and tortured their captives.

Despite the reduction of one vehicle, the group arrived back at its starting point in Britain exactly four minutes behind schedule.

Photos courtesy of Louisa Russell, Debbey Clitheroe, Magda Thomas, Rohini Bajaj, David Harrison and Paul McCue,