The annual memorial ceremony at the SOE French Section memorial takes place every May 6th, and commences at 11am with official attendees laying wreaths.
This year these included Nick Fox OBE on behalf of the Special Forces Club; Lionel Southgate on behalf of Libre Résistance; and M. Patrick Dreier, the local representative of ONACVG. (Office National des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre.)
Additional wreaths were laid in recognition of the RAF personnel who lost their lives while involved with SOE's activities in France - by Duncan Stuart CMG, President of the Holdsworth Trust, in memory of the Special Duties aircrews; by two current RAF members of the Joint Forces Intelligence Group (JFIG); by Paul McCue on behalf of The Secret WW2 Learning Network; and by Mel Coates, on behalf of the Station Commander and personnel of RAF Odiham - the home base for three Chinook helicopter squadrons and the headquarters of Britain's Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing.
In addition, Sue and Dave Woodard of the Tempsford Veterans and Relatives Association (TVARA) laid a wreath in recognition of the more than six hundred airmen from RAF Tempsford's two Special Duties squadrons who died during WW2 - one of whom had been Sue's uncle whose 138 Sqn Halifax was shot down over Normandy in July 1944.
The wreath laying was followed by the traditional reading out of the names of the 104 SOE agents listed on the memorial's plinths. This year's reading was to have been carried out by SOE veteran Noreen Riols (who worked at Baker Street and Beaulieu) and Bill Beauclerk, the vice-president of Libre Résistance whose late father, Ralph Beauclerk, had been an SOE wireless operator in France.
But Bill had very kindly - and spontaneously - invited a surprise guest at the ceremony to also take part in the reading out of the agents' names; and so Debbey Clitheroe - who many attendees had recently been watching in the BBC Two series SECRET AGENT SELECTION: WW2 - followed on from Noreen, and then handed over to Bill for the completion of this solemn role.
Following a minute's silence and the national anthems, there were several official speeches in either French and English, or both. Almost all contained special tributes to the role of the RAF in supporting SOE and French resisters. The speakers included M. Claude Doucet, Vice-président du Conseil Général de l’Indre, and Mayor of Valencay; and a representative of the Préfet de l’Indre.
Lionel Southgate, Président de Libre Résistance, gave a particularly impassioned speech which included many references to the RAF. His late father Maurice Southgate DSO had been in the RAF before joining SOE and serving in France. The text of Lionel's speech can be downloaded by clicking HERE.
His Excellency The British Ambassador to France was represented at this year's ceremony by Lieutenant Colonel Mark Pugh-Cook of the Intelligence Corps, who's currently serving as the British Liaison Officer (Concepts and Doctrine) to the Ecole Militaire in Paris. The version in English of Lt Col Pugh-Cook's speech is reproduced lower down this page, and it can also be downloaded by clicking HERE.
Our grateful thanks for the photo and video contributions of -
TITANIA REDON - DEBBEY CLITHEROE - CAROL BROWN - SUE & DAVE WOODARD - NICK FOX
NIGEL FOX - FABRICE DURY - PAUL McCUE - MARTYN COX
Speech by Lieutenant Colonel Mark Pugh-Cook:
It is an enormous privilege and a pleasure to be here amongst you today as the representative of the British Ambassador in Paris. It is also a huge honour for me as an officer of the Intelligence Corps to commemorate the achievements and sacrifices made by the forebears of those present today. 77 years ago today Georges Bégué jumped into the unknown close to Valençay to make contact with Max Hymans. That was less than a year after the launch of the SOE. Nobody could have known that the operations in France alone would lead to 90 networks with 470 agents, along with thousands of French volunteers as well as the naval, air and other support. Even if the dangers might have been apparent, the enormous scale must have been impossible to fathom. Taking off by night, crossing the Channel in the dark, parachuting in or landing in the fields. These agents were often entirely alone in a secret war, knowing full well that if discovered they would be tortured and shot. This year marks the centenary of the formation of the Royal Air Force, and it is appropriate that we should commemorate and celebrate their role supporting Section F. 138 and 161 Special Duties Squadrons flew from Tempsford in Bedfordshire, very close to the current home of the Intelligence Corps, parachuting in agents and supplies. 148 and 624 Special Duties Squadrons in North Africa carried out a similar role into Southern France. Their aircrews were not only British but included personnel from many countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Norway, France and the United States of America. As we remember the 104 names on this memorial, it is worth noting that ten of these people, four men and six women, were from the RAF. The legacy of their sacrifice is the source of inspiration for today’s generation of airmen and airwomen, which is epitomized by the presence of our two RAF colleagues here today. I would also like to thank the “Fédération Nationale de Libre Résistance” for organizing this commemoration and for keeping alive the memory of the SOE agents and all members of the “Buckmaster Network”. These agents created a network of networks with the French Resistance. Together they helped win the war and handed us peace and liberty. Now we are the network charged to take forward their memory, bring to life their courage, their values and their sacrifices. I salute them, and I thank them. We will remember them.