This year’s now-traditional SWW2LN ’walk and talk’ at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey (where many SOE agents are commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing 1939-45) took place on Saturday 9th September 2017.
Led by Trustee Paul McCue and supported by Chair Louisa Russell, volunteers Meryl Jones, Merrill Haeusler and regular supporter Stella Marsh, this year’s subjects for commemoration began with a visit to the civilian side of the huge cemetery and the finding (not easily!) of the ashes grave of one of SOE’s most famous agents: Wing Commander Yeo Thomas GC MC and Bar - the famous "White Rabbit" of RF Section who survived the war and died in France in 1964 before his ashes were brought to Brookwood for burial.
The party of eight was fortunate to include Yvette Pitt, daughter of French Section’s celebrated agent, the late Yvonne Cormeau MBE, Ld'h, CdeG, who was able to add a personal element to the understanding of an agent’s life.
Moving on to the military cemetery, those remembered were Fortunato Picchi of SOE’s Operation Colossus in February 1941, added only in the last few years to the Memorial to the Missing; and Second Lieutenants Popoff and Garnier, trained French Section agents awaiting despatch to France, but killed in the London blitz in May, 1941.
They were buried at Brookwood (a third trainee’s body was repatriated to France at the end of the war) in the Free French plot – despite the fact that they had both served in the British Army before joining SOE - Popoff in the Royal Berkshire Regiment and Garnier in The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).
From Brookwood, the group continued to Wanborough Manor, formerly SOE’s Preliminary School - STS 5, where the historic Great Barn was open to visitors. This year the Barn, in additional to its usual displays on SOE life at the Manor, also hosted an exhibition on Noor Inayat Khan GC CdeG the tragic French Section agent. The SOE commemorative plaque was viewed in the adjacent St Bartholomew’s Church, with a peep into the Manor’s rear gardens, and a late lunch taken in the adjoining community hall.
Naturally, in this small world of ours, three of the group who had been at the annual Valençay event in May 2017, found themselves at the next table to a serving FANY whom they had met in France. The present-day FANY was with a wartime FANY who had received radio messages for French Section and so was delighted to be able to talk to Yvette Pitt as the daughter of one of the agents she had served.
The day was rounded off by drinks at the end of the day in The Good Intent pub in the nearby village of Puttenham, a hostelry known to have been frequented by trainee agents at Wanborough Manor. Volunteer Carol Brown and two friends managed to join us for a liquid Mention in Despatches.
The 'thank you' note sent later by one our keenest supporters, Merril Haeusler, was very much appreciated -
The Brookwood-Wanborough Manor Tour was yet another reminder of the bravery and unselfish sacrifice of some very special people during WW2. Members of the SOE who gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy today should be remembered at every opportunity. Paul made it even more memorable due to his research and the inside stories he tells of these men and women, bringing their missions to life. To be joined by Yvette Pitt, daughter of Yvonne Cormeau, an SOE agent, was a wonderful experience. For me, the term, Lest we Forget, is a reality. Thank you Paul for the organisation and preparation.
IMAGES COURTESY OF LOUISA RUSSELL, JOHN CROWE, PAUL McCUE and CWGC