POLITICS - Eileen Nearne died alone on Sept 2nd at the age of 89. Nobody in her neighbourhood knew that she had been an WWII secret agent in France, spying on the gestapo and the German military during the German occupation. It was only after documents and photographs were found in her apartment, and her story was determined to be already listed in several historical books about WWII spies, that the truth about Eileen Nearne came out.
What had seemed an old woman destined for a pauper's grave is now being hailed as a British national hero. With no known relatives authorities searched her apartment looking for evidence of family... Amongst the things she left behind they found a treasure trove of medals and documents which referred to her as "Agent Rose", a wireless operator during Germany-occupied France and a member of the secretive Special Operations Executive (SOE).
At the age of 23 the brave young Nearne had flown into France under the cover of darkness in March 1944 to work as an undercover agent helping coordinate resistance fighters and spies.
She was arrested by the Gestapo in July but thanks to her fluent French was able to hide her British identity. Her family had lived in France during her childhood. She was arrested again weeks later and imprisoned at Ravensbrueck concentration, then transferred to a forced labour camp in Silesia. She and two French girls escaped the camp in April 1945 but were caught days later.
She was later released when Nearne convinced their captors of their innocence, claiming they had only joined the French Resistance because it was exciting.
After WWII ended, Nearne was awarded with a membership in the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her services. She lived most of her life with her sister Jacqueline, who had also served in the SOE.
The Royal British Legion has taken over the funeral preparations, scheduled next week. (Personal Note: I am planning to attend the funeral myself, if the general public is allowed in.)
On Tuesday a relative of Nearne was found living abroad, a niece who says she visited her aunt regularly and “she was always cherished by the family.” She added her aunt wanted her ashes to be scattered at sea.
Eileen Nearne’s story is well remembered by historians, including M.R.D. Foot in his popular book about the SOE in France (SOE, The Special Operations Executive 1940-1946, published in 1984) who writes:
"Eileen Nearne of WIZARD, who had transmitted a good deal of economic and military intelligence besides helping in the routine work of arranging drops for SPIRITUALIST, was caught at her set in July. She brought off a dextrous bluff, and persuaded the Gestapo she was only a foolish little shopgirl who had taken up resistance work because it was exciting; they never discovered she was half English. But they took her away to Germany all the same."
Later in the book, Foot recounts Eileen Nearne’s amazing escape from a Ravensbrück working party in April 1945. There are at least five other references to Nearne in the book. Foot’s book is not obscure either. Its quite popular. Eileen Nearne also apparently appears in Marcus Binney’s popular book "The Women Who Lived for Danger".
So Eileen Nearne's, aka Agent Rose's, story will be remembered by many.