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TESTIMONIALS: following the Charity's recent events

held at Dunsfold and Tangmere

I would like to thank you for the wonderful day at Dunsfold aerodrome. I feel thoroughly satisfied that my aunt Jacqueline has her beautiful plaque there.

The whole event was well organized, and I felt so proud when I was able to unveil the plaque and say my speech. I especially liked the cards with Jacqueline's image on the front - what a beautiful idea! Will treasure the portrait you gave me too.

Just a note to thank you for a most enjoyable and interesting time at Dunsfold Park yesterday. A very professional presentation followed by a most appropriate unveiling ceremony to commemorate Jacqueline Nearne.

- JA

We really enjoyed our visit to Dunsfold on Saturday. Thank you so much for organising it.
As well as the SOE aspect of it I particularly enjoyed driving round the Top Gear circuit!

- CW

- Odile Nearne,

niece of Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne

I thought today was most successful. Well done for a great presentation and organisation.

- MH

Two Magnificent Days at Tangmere and Dunsfold – 2nd & 4th August 2018  by Ann Palmer

The unforgiving August sun poured down on us as we drove to Tangmere; the grass, now yellow everywhere, often looked more like hay.  So we needed a good hour to recuperate and have some lunch.

A talk by Martyn Bell, Mayor of Chichester and Co-founder of The Secret WW2 Learning Network, magnified the courage and determination of his subject - Jean Moulin.

Jean Moulin had first come to Britain in September 1941 in order to meet General de Gaulle in London and was appointed by the General to act as his representative in uniting the different political factions within the resistance movement in the southern zone of France. Returning to France by parachute in January 1942, Moulin was successful over the next year in merging the three main groups of the Résistance into the Comité Directeur des Mouvements Unis de la Résistance (MUR), bringing them together under one command structure in January 1943.  The Communists had, so far, outshone most in terms of security and action.

In February 1943, Moulin returned to England by Lysander to report to de Gaulle. How frustrating it must have been for Jean Moulin to then wait a month before finally returning to his homeland, again by Lysander, from RAF Tangmere on the night of 19th March 1943 – the flight that was at the centre of Martyn Bell’s presentation. Earlier attempts had been made to fly Moulin back to France, and on one occasion, when aborting and returning to England, it was only the skill of Squadron Leader Verity, the pilot of the 161 (Special Duties) Squadron Lysander, that enabled both men to survive a crash landing in the fog at Tangmere.

Moulin now had even more important work to do - the forming of a Conseil National de la Résistance (CNR). His task was to be a difficult one given that he had to unite, at a national level, five resistance movements, with varying degrees of support for, or mistrust of, de Gaulle.

Jean Moulin held the first meeting of the CNR in Paris in May 1943 but a further meeting on 21st June 1943 in Caluire, close to Lyon, ended in disaster when the Germans arrived and arrested Moulin and several other Résistance leaders.  Several theories exist as to how he came to be arrested.

Despite then suffering untold torture and subsequently dying for his country, Moulin had succeeded in  uniting the different factions of the Résistance.  Martyn Bell brought all that home to us in a most moving and informative talk.

The next pièce de résistance was the visit to see the replica of the Mk III (SD) Lysander, built by Gateguards (UK) Ltd for the film ‘Allied’ directed by Robert Zemeckis. When I entered the hall where the plane stood in the Tangmere museum, I was surprised by how big it was. An agent would climb the alloy ladder, attached to the plane and positioned at an angle, and then heave himself or herself into the plane, ready to lift cases and sometimes heavy radio receivers, from another agent standing on the ladder.  

The pilot’s foot inserts and plates, positioned on the body of the plane, were set wide apart so you could imagine him wearing his heavy uniform and boots, going from one foothold to another, before lifting himself into the cockpit.

The skill of these brave pilots, transporting agents to France, flying above enemy territory and facing the danger of being shot down, needs to be publicised more and more. As does  the courage of the agents, prepared to risk their lives in the fight against the Nazis, because it is very clear that many of those born within the last three decades know little about these incredible people and how we all owe them our freedom.

Dunsfold Park - Dunsfold Aerodrome

On Saturday, 4th August 2018, Paul McCue, a trustee of The Secret WW2 Learning Network, gave a moving and fascinating talk about the history of Dunsfold Aerodrome and the SOE heroine, Lt Jacqueline Nearne who came back to Dunsfold from France in April 1943.

In an introductory presentation, Paul outlined how in May 1942 the Canadian Army began to construct the wartime airfield for the Royal Canadian Air Force and the official opening took place only 18 weeks later.  An incredible feat!  

Dunsfold witnessed and contributed to some important historical events, both during and after WW2. General (later President) Eisenhower spoke to aircrew shortly before D-Day and Dunsfold’s B-25 Mitchell medium bombers flew in support of the invasion around the clock. Some of the targets had come via the Résistance in France.  Operation Exodus, from April to June 1945 saw more than 47,000 former prisoners of war flown into Dunsfold from liberated Europe. Among the aircraft used were those of the squadrons that had flown operations for SOE during the war.
After the war, the charter airline Skyways Ltd used the airfield from 1946 to 1950 and participated in the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949, helping deliver food, clothing, fuel and other essential supplies to the cut-off West Berlin population. From 1951 to 2000 the aerodrome was operated by the Hawker Aircraft Company, later Hawker Siddeley, BAe (today BAE Systems) for aircraft refurbishment, test flying and, ultimately, aircraft assembly. Types that were delivered from Dunsfold included the Sea Hawk, Sea Fury, Hunter, Gnat, Harrier, Sea Harrier and Hawk. Paul exhibited several models of the aircraft from the Skyways and Hawker/BAe periods.

The second (and main) talk by Paul was about Lt Jacqueline Nearne, the heroine of SOE’s STATIONER circuit who was flown back to Dunsfold in April 1944 when Colonel Buckmaster, Head of French Section, SOE, ordered her return due to her ill health. Long-distance train journeys that she made to contact other agents, often travelling at night, and the fact that the circuit was geographically over-stretched, led to her exhaustion.  One photograph, exhibited by Paul in his presentation, clearly showed Jacqueline’s fatigue at the end of the war. When she came out of France, she barely had the strength to carry her suitcase.

After a delicious finger buffet lunch provided by the staff of Dunsfold Airport Ltd,  Jacqueline’s niece, Odile Nearne, gave a moving account of the dangerous work undertaken by Jacqueline and her sister, Eileen ‘Didi’, who also served in French Section, SOE – as a  radio operator.  Jacqueline sadly was not able to enjoy her retirement due to her untimely death in 1982 and her sister Didi’s ill health made her life difficult and at times lonely.

A plaque, generously funded by Dunsfold Airport Ltd, was unveiled in Jacqueline’s memory outside one of the aerodrome’s wartime hangars, commending her courage and important work in her role as an SOE courier.


- Ann Palmer

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