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ST MARKS NEWS SOE Edition
MISSION: Diana Rowden the ﬁrst children to have walked through the club’s doors! It was a very special day for all involved.
By Claire Rivers, Head Teacher
St Marks CE Primary School was awarded a £10,000 Heritage Lottery Fund Sharing Heritage grant to help uncover the mystery surrounding the work of secret agents behind enemy lines during World War II. Whilst researching the concept as a whole, they concentrated on the role of women agents and speciﬁcally Diana Rowden who in her youth had links with our village, Hadlow Down. We were very fortunate to access this funding and planned Red Admirals work (Years 4, 5 and 6) in Terms 1 and 2 around the ‘Diana Rowden’ project. The ‘learning journey’, was cross-curricular and the funding ensured that the children had a wide breadth of engaging learning experiences. A trip to the Air Force Memorial at Runnymede started the school year and then in November, 9 pupils in Year 6 had a trip to London , visited the Imperial War Museum and were very fortunate to be invited to the Special Forces Club in London to see for themselves a watercolour painting of Diana and three of her colleagues arriving at Natzweiler Prison Camp. I believe they are
Real Life James Bond By Kitty The SOE stands for Special Operations Executive; it was set up by Winston Churchill as his army to ‘SET EUROPE ABLAZE’ through sabotage and subversion. Churchill hoped that it would help to bring the war to a climax. The SOE worked together with the French Red Cross and the rest of the British army. The SOE was based in London. If you worked for the SOE you could not even tell your family, that is how secret it was. Recruits were an unusual range of people like bankers, chefs, playwrights and taxicab drivers. Women hadn’t been recruited to join the SOE until April 1942 because of a problem linked to the statutes of the British Army, Navy and Royal Air Force. This statute
barred women from armed combat which meant they were not allowed to shoot people and kill them. If the women were caught killing then they could be legally executed as spies through the Hague Convention. What courage and strength of character those agents must have had! Below: SOE Memorial, London
For this project we employed a local charity, Sound Architect Creative Media, to help us and, through them, the children took part in sessions on how to research, write articles and create a newspaper; which you are now reading as a result of their work. They also had talks from Dick Dufort, whose father ﬂew Lysander missions behind enemy lines to drop oﬀ SOE agents into occupied France, and local historian, Ann Kramer, who has written and researched about Women Spies.
“ I believe they are the first children to have walked through the club’s doors! It was a very special day for all involved.”
Why Women? By Becky Ca Why Did the SOE choose women to go undercover as secret agents? It was because women could go to occupied France and not be noticed, as the Germans would not have thought of women as secret agents. All the female agents were watched over by a lady called Vera Atkins, she briefed every agent in great detail as to how to live in occupied France with all of its rules and regulations. All of the agents were given French clothing, mementos, ticket stubs, letters and keepsakes in order that they appeared to be French. If they were searched for information they could say that they were no more than French ladies going to get their rations. As all of the agents set oﬀ, Vera Atkins stood on the runway to
watch them take oﬀ in the Lysander aircraft ready to parachute into France. Each evening, they received their personal orders which were coded messages broadcast after the news on the BBC French service.
What must the women have been feeling as they set off on that flight to France? After the war ended in Europe Vera Atkins investigated the fate of the 118 ‘F’ (France) section agents who had disappeared in enemy territory. She succeeded in ﬁnding out about all of them except one. Right from top: Vera Atkins - in charge of the women who worked in ‘F’ section; Violette Szabo, Posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Cross de Guerre; Nancy Wake, Nicknamed the White Mouse, was reportedly the Gestapo’s most wanted spy
The children, following their immersion in this amazing learning journey, have developed a mature understanding about World War II, as well as tremendous respect and admiration, for the bravery of the women, and men, who worked behind enemy lines.
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Diana Rowden was born in Chelsea, on 31st January, 1915. When she was a young child her parents separated and she moved with her mother and younger brothers to southern France.
By Rebecca I
When she was a teenager Diana was sent back to England where she was educated at Manor House at Limpsfield, Surrey.
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Diana’s name is remembered on many memorials, including: • Scottish War Memorial • The Air Force Memorial at Runnymede • Valencay, France • Natzweiller Concentration Camp Deportation Memorial • Tilford Church, Surrey • St. Paul’s Knightsbridge
The concentration camp where she died is now a French Government historical site.
From 1931 – 34 the family lived at Hadlow Lodge in Hadlow Down.
Hadlow Down Villager Dawn Johnson‘s father drove taxies during this period and told Dawn about the family living in the village. When the Rowdens moved they gave away a number of books and Dawn was given a ‘Household Cookery Recipes’ book – with Diana’s name handwritten on the fly cover. She still has it to this day!
1941 By Backy & Harriet
In 1933 Diana returned to France and enrolled at the Sorbonne. After completing the course she worked as a journalist in Paris.
1939 1939 On the outbreak of the Second World War Diana joined the Red Cross and was assigned to the Anglo-American Ambulance Corps of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
In September, 1941, Diana joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). Over the next year she worked in intelligence at the Department of the Chief of Air Staff. In July 1942 she was promoted to Section Officer and posted to Moreton-in-the-Marsh.
In May 1940 France was invaded by the German Army. Diana was unable to join the evacuation at Dunkirk and remained in the country until the summer of 1941. After travelling through Spain and Portugal she arrived back in England where she was reunited with her mother. By Backy & Harriet
Posthumously, Diana Hope Rowden was appointed: • A Member of the Order of the British Empire and mentioned in Dispatches • A Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre (France)
By Rebecca I
Vera Leigh was born Vera Glass on 17 March 1903 in Leeds. Adopted by H. Eugene Leigh, an American racehorse trainer with stables at Maisons Laffitte she lived near Paris.
Sonia Olschanezky was born in Chemnitz, 24th December 1923, the daughter of a Russian Jew. Whilst Sonia was young her family moved to France. Olschanezkly was a good student but her main ambition was to become a dancer, but after leaving school she became an au pair.
After the fall of Paris, Vera was involved with the French Resistance helping to run an escape line for Allied servicemen trapped behind enemy lines As a First Aid Nursing Ensign she came to the attention of the SOE, who recruited her for F Section, She excelled in her training and was known to be “the best shot in the party”. Her first and only mission began in France in May 1943 where she worked for a year before being captured.
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By Nolan Born in France, Andree Borrel grew up on the outskirts of Paris. She joined the French Resistance and, worked near the Spanish boarder helping British airmen shot down over France to escape to Britain. In December 1941 Borrel’s resistance group was uncovered and she fled to Lisbon, Portugal. She arrived in England and was interrogated in case she was a double agent. On the night 24 September 1942, Borrel, code named ‘Denise’ and fellow SOE agent, Lise de Baissac became the first female agents to be parachuted into occupied France. On 23 June 1943 she was arrested.
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In May 1940, France was invaded by the German Army. It was not long before Sonia joined the French Resistance and was stationed in Chalonssur-Mame, spending her time carrying messages between SOE agents in the area.
Years later, Brian Stonehouse painted a watercolour of the women arriving at the camp – reproduced here by kind permission of the Stonehouse family.
In July 1944 Diana, together with Vera Leigh, Andree Borrel and Sonia Olschansety were taken to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace, France, where later that day they were injected with phenol and disposed of in the crematorium. They were meant to disappear without trace, but their arrival at the concentration camp was witnessed by captured SOE agent, Brian Stonehouse, and Albert Guerisse, a member of the Belgium Resistance.
Spy insp ired
Diana’s ability to speak French fluently brought her to the attention of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). After being interviewed at the War Office in March 1943, she agreed to become a British special agent. On March 18th Diana’s training began at Wanborough. She was also sent to Arisaig House the Scottish highlands to learn about guns and explosives and then on to a survival course in Hampshire, finishing with parachute training near Manchester.
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On 13th May 1944 the Germans transported Diana and seven other SOE agents, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel, Sonya Olschanezky, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman, Madeleine Damerment and Odette Sansom, to Nazi Germany.
Given the codename “Paulette” she was flown to Le Mans with Noor Inayat Khan and Cecily Lefort on 16th June 1943. She travelled to St Amour where she joined the Acrobat Network led by John Starr. Over the next few months she worked as a courier delivering messages to agents in Marseilles, Lyon and Paris. She also helped Harry Ree in the plans to sabotage the Peugeot plant at Sochaux where tank turrets and aircraft engines parts were made. On 18th November, 1943, Diana was arrested while with two other members of the French Resistance at Lons-le-Saunier. She was taken to Avenue Foch, the Gestapo headquarters, in Paris. After being interrogated for two weeks she was sent to Fresnes Prison.
Remembering at Runnymede... By Kitty and Felicity
On Monday the 9th September our class went to the RAF War Memorial at Runnymede.
When we arrived it was raining heavily, but we still trudged on. We crossed the road and there we saw an extremely long driveway. Red admirals walked all the way in the pouring rain. There were signs that were quite sad because they said that over 60 million people had died in the war.
If you can reach for your wings to ﬂy Then you shall have no reason to cry For you have worked all your life With your heart through strife And you will be remembered by your life.
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“ There were signs that were quite sad because they said that over 60 million people had died in the war.” The class gathered together in one of the big rooms. We looked at a big poem on the window that then inspired us to write our poems. In groups of four we went up lots of stairs. When we got to the top it was raining and we got even more sodden because there was no rooﬁng.
As we got to the end of the driveway the class stopped to look at the doors, they had shiny golden lions as the handles. Our task at Runnymede was to go around looking at the memorials and ﬁnd 10 names and what their rank were, some people found Diana Rowden.
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When we had all been up and come back down we went back to the coach, it was still raining. We got on the comfy, cosy coach and ate our lunch. Had it been worth it? YES!
Year 6’s Visit SFC By Bronwen and Poppy The Year 6’s of St. Marks Hadlow Down Primary School were the ﬁrst children ever to go to the SFC (Special Forces Club). This place is so top secret that only spies and agents are allowed in. Nobody except the agents and the spies who are members know where this location is. The children found out it was so secret that they knocked on the wrong door! At last, they eventually got there and went inside.
The children took oﬀ their coats and hung them up; they took oﬀ their rucksacks and put them down. They came into this beautiful lounge and looked up and to their surprise saw a small chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The staircase was covered with photos of diﬀerent agents, the ones that had a black frame had died on operations and the ones with silver frames were the ones who survived. There was a very important picture that Brian Stonehouse had painted of Celest Clon, she was a French spy.
They had a sitting room with the painting the children had come to see, it was of Diana Rowden, Sonia Olschanezky, Vera Leigh and Andree Borrel, going to be killed in the concentration camp. It had been painted by SOE Agent Brian Stonehouse. There were also separate photos of the four women as well. The hosts that showed the children round were lovely people and they hosted us very well. A quote from the Year 6 children, “If we could go again we would”.
By Harrison and Rebecca I
Above: By Josh
Eagle Strike is a book Red Admirals are reading as a class with our teachers. The story was written by Anthony Horowitz. The characters in the story are Alex Rider, Mr Daman Craig, Hunter, Sabina, and Yassone Gregorovech. In the story Alex Rider was a spy for MI5. The story has adventures; it is exciting and makes you want to read on.
Spy Mission in the Woods By Megan and Harry Red Admirals set their children a challenge to come up with a secret spy mission, which they could do in their local wood (Wilderness Wood, Hadlow Down). We asked one of the children what their mission was and he said,
“ Our mission was to track down the other groups without them finding out”.
I spy w ith my little e ye
Below: By Josh and Leo
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The trip was extremely fun, geocaching in the woods! Right: By Daniel
Can you break these codes? 1
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Acknowlegements St Marks CEP School would like to thank the following for their contribution to this project: The Red Admirals Class of 2013/14 The Special Forces Club Imperial War Museum Our volunteer Researchers and Contributors, especially: Chris Marks, Dick Dufort, Dawn Johnson, Penny Dodd Clare Cohen, Nanny Pam The Sound Architect Creative Media team: Nicola Stewart, Ann Kramer, Peter Lindsey, Annabel Clements, Vicky Richards
Morse Code Answers 1. When did the Second World War start: World War two started in 1939. 2. What is another word for spies: Another word for spies is agents. 3. What was the name of the German leader at the time of World War two: His name was Hitler.
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