Largely un­sung WWII hero­ine

EILEEN NEARNE

Los Angeles Times - - Obituaries - news.obits@latimes.com

Eileen Nearne, a reclu­sive World War II hero­ine who op­er­ated as an un­der­cover ra­dio trans­mit­ter in France dur­ing the D-day in­va­sion, help­ing co­or­di­nate the Al­lied war ef­fort un­til she was caught by the Gestapo, died Sept. 2 of a heart at­tack at her home in south­west Eng­land. She was 89.

Nearne, who was known as Agent Rose, main­tained her se­crecy and never dis­cussed her wartime ex­ploits with her neigh­bors in Torquay, the sea­side town in Devon where she lived un­til her death.

Her brav­ery was not widely ac­knowl­edged un­til lo­cal of­fi­cials went into her apart­ment af­ter her death and found a trove of medals, records and mem­o­ra­bilia, in­clud­ing French cur­rency used dur­ing the war.

Dur­ing World War II, Nearne worked with the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Ex­ec­u­tive, a clan­des­tine op­er­a­tion set up by Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill to carry out acts of sab­o­tage and es­pi­onage against the Nazis, who were oc­cu­py­ing Western Europe.

Nearne’s mis­sion to France in 1944 — when she was 23, pos­ing as a French shop girl — was to op­er­ate a wire­less trans­mit­ter that served as a vi­tal link be­tween the French re­sis­tance and war plan­ners in London.

John Pen­treath, county man­ager for the Royal Bri­tish Le­gion vet­er­ans’ char­ity, said Nearne was cap­tured be­hind en­emy lines with a ra­dio trans­mit­ter and was sent to the Ravens­bruck con­cen­tra­tion camp. She later es­caped and was ul­ti­mately lib­er­ated by Amer­i­can forces.

“It’s a stag­ger­ing story for a young girl,” he said. “We hold her in awe and huge re­spect. All Brits do. We are very dis­ap­pointed we didn’t know about her when she was alive; we would have dearly loved to have made con­tact with her.”

His­to­rian M.R.D. Foot, who had ac­cess to Nearne’s se­cret ac­count of her ac­tiv­i­ties, said she was the only Bri­tish agent with an op­er­at­ing trans­mit­ter in the Paris area dur­ing the cru­cial pe­riod from March 1944 un­til she was caught by the Ger­mans in July 1944.

“She was there dur­ing Dday,” he said. “What she did was ex­tremely im­por­tant. She was ar­rang­ing for weapons and ex­plo­sive drops, and those were used to help cut the Ger­mans’ rail lines.” He said Nearne showed brav­ery and dis­cre­tion when she re­fused to talk about clan­des­tine op­er­a­tions even af­ter suf­fer­ing ex­treme treat­ment.

Af­ter the war, Nearne was awarded an MBE, or Mem­ber of the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire, in recog­ni­tion of her ser­vices. She lived most of the rest of her life with her sis­ter Jac­que­line, who had also served in the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Ex­ec­u­tive.

Since her sis­ter’s death in 1982, Nearne had lived alone.

The saga of Nearne’s lonely death and her wartime ser­vice touched a nerve in Bri­tain. The Times of London said in an ed­i­to­rial that she seemed to re­sem­ble Eleanor Rigby, the spin­ster who died alone in a Bea­tles song. “Her life de­serves to be sung about ev­ery bit as much as Eleanor Rigby’s,” the ed­i­to­rial said.

BRITON

Eileen Nearne worked un­der­cover in France.

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