What's recently been said about Brighton's Secret Agents
On Lt Jacqueline Nearne ...
The story of SOE in Italy has for too long lingered in the shadows, overshadowed by its exploits in France. Yet its support of the Italian partisans fighting the occupying German forces in northern Italy was on an epic scale. After the allied landings in Italy, dozens of British missions were parachuted into the country to assist the rising tempo of Italian resistance against an increasingly vicious occupation marked by dreadful Nazi reprisals on the civilian population. Sabotaging German supply lines, roads, railways and bridges was central to the task of what was known as No 1 Special Force.
Captain Ron Taylor, a skilled engineer, was perfect for the job of both carrying out demolitions himself and training a team of Italians to help him using supplies regularly dropped in by allied aircraft. The work required skill and enormous bravery, and Ron was the first to acknowledge that without the help and courage of the civilian population, both men and women, SOE could never have fulfilled the task. In the mountains of north-east Italy, life at the best of times was hard. Over the winter of 1944-5, harried by German forces including ruthless Cossacks, it was perilous.
But Ron survived, No 1 Special Force went on to make a vital contribution to victory and liberation in 1945, and in later life he never forgot the Italians who had risked, and in many cases lost, their lives in assisting him and his mission. Today, we remember Ron himself, a man of courage who risked his life to help set Europe, and Italy, free from the Nazi scourge.
- Odile Nearne, niece of
Jacqueline & Eileen 'Didi' Nearne
I am overjoyed and extremely proud that my dear aunt Jacqueline is finally being recognised for her tremendous courage during World War II. She sacrificed so much, and was determined in her patriotic ideals, so that Europe would be freed from Nazism. This blue plaque will be a beautiful tribute to her, so that she will never be forgotten. Bless her soul.
On Captain Ronald Taylor ...
David Stafford - author of the official history
Mission Accomplished: SOE and Italy 1943-1945
On researching the stories of all four SOE agents ...
- Paul McCue
Charity Trustee and author of BRIGHTON'S SECRET AGENTS
One of the humbling aspects of researching and writing this book has been the discovery of how 'normal' these agents often were. Only one, Michael Trotobas, was a professional soldier and ironically, he was the only one killed. Of the others, Edward Zeff had been a high-class shirt maker, Jacqueline Nearne a sales rep and Ronald Taylor a young engineer who came to his wartime job far more interested in building things - rather than blowing them up.
Jacqueline Nearne was perhaps the most understated and low-profile of the four, yet within a few hours of parachuting into France with her circuit leader, she saved the day with her quick, calm thinking. As the two agents tried to find their way to a railway station just after dawn, Jacqueline's chief asked a passing Frenchwoman for directions - in English. Before the startled woman could react, Jacqueline quickly repeated the question in her flawless French, and they got away with this awful blunder.
To my mind, that was typical of how a cool head, coupled with courageous determination to help throw the enemy out of occupied Europe, counted for far more than 'secret agent' skills. Trotobas, who died with guns blazing, was put forward for a posthumous Victoria Cross, but received nothing. Zeff, by contrast, almost miraculously survived two concentration camps and the constant expectation of execution - despite being not only a British agent, but also being Jewish. And Taylor would always remember the time when, as he struggled out of his parachute harness moments after landing in north-eastern Italy in 1944, a burly male partisan rushed up out of the dark and enthusiastically kissed him.
The three who survived to return to Britain were decorated heroes, certainly, but they were quiet, unassuming heroes who rarely spoke of their earlier exploits. With these four blue plaques, and my supporting book, they now receive well-deserved recognition in their home town.