Title: “Jacqueline,” Pioneer Heroine of The Resistance
Author: Stella King
King, Stella (1989). “Jacqueline,” Pioneer Heroine Of The Resistance. London: Arms and Armour
- Rudellat, Yvonne, 1897-1945.
- Great Britain. Special Operations Executive–Biography.
- World War, 1939-1945–Underground movements–France.
- World War, 1939-1945–Secret service–Great Britain.
- World War, 1939-1945–Women–France.
Date Updated: September 30, 2015
The story of Yvonne Rudellat, “Jacqueline”.
Ten days after the declaration of war in 1939, Yvonne’s seventeen-year-old daughter joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and later married a sergeant. Yvonne tried several times to join her daughter in the ATS, but was turned down because of her age. In 1942, at the age of forty-five, Yvonne was finally accepted and selected to train for the SOE, though no woman had ever been chosen as a leader, though many had proven themselves.
Rudelatt joined the SOE in 1942 and following her training, she left England for Gibraltar on 17 July 1942 under the codename JACQUELINE and, after months of training, became the first woman SOE to be sent abroad. In terrible weather, she landed by small boat on the Riviera coast of France and travelled to Tours, close to the border of the Occupied Zone and Vichy France to act as a courier to the Prosper circuit. She and her partner, Pierre Culioli, controlled the group together, and carried out many successful operations against German-operated train lines and factories. Between August 1942 and June 1943, Rudelatt worked with the circuit as a courier and also specialized in sabotage and parachute drops. She was part of the team who sabotaged Chaigny power station and personally blew up two locomotives at Le Mans in March 1943.
With suspicions mounting, the two were openly pursued by German forces. On 21 June 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo while waiting for a parachute drop and was wounded during an attempt to escape; Pierre and Yvonne were trying to escape arrest in a car when a bullet hit her in the back of her head, knocking her unconscious. Pierre saw the amount of blood coming from the wound, and since Yvonne was unresponsive, he decided to kill himself rather than be taken and tortured. He slammed the vehicle into a ditch and then the side of a cottage, but the two woke up in a hospital at Blois hours later. Yvonne was told that her injury wasn’t life-threatening, and that the bullet hadn’t pierced her brain, but that it would be unsafe to remove it. She was taken to Ravensbrück, on the same transport as another female resistance heroine, Odette Sansom.
She was hospitalized at Blois. On recovery she was transferred to Ravensbrück on 21 April 1944. She was later moved to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she contracted typhus and died.
During World War II, over 8,000 Frenchwomen were sent to prison camps in Germany, and only 800 returned to France. In February 1945, 2,500 elderly and ill women were sent from Ravensbrück to what they thought would be a “convalescent camp,” but which was actually Belsen. Yvonne, who had not given the German authorities her real name, possibly suffering from amnesia, was recorded as “Jacqueline Gautier”. She died there after contracting typhus on or around 23 April 1945, shortly after the camp was liberated. As she had successfully maintained her alias of Madame Gautier, and she was extremely ill when the Allied troops arrived, she was not identified as a British SOE agent and was buried in a mass grave.
Some comments by Roy Berkeley
At 26 Ebury Street in London is the Ebury Court Hotel. Still home to the Ebury Court Club and still serving excellent food in a new restaurant named Tophams, this building is much as it was during WWII. Lifts and fire doors have been added and a ‘gentle refurbishment’ undertaken, but the hotel still has an old-style charm and—like grand hotels such as Claridge’s and the Savoy—a coveted ‘Red Star’ rating from the Automobile Association.
This was a home-from-home during the war for a number of undercover agents. At least 15 hotel guests and club members—possibly more—were with naval or military intelligence, espionage, counter-espionage, Laurence Grand’s ‘Statistical Research’ department, and SOE, writes Stella King in “Jacqueline”: Pioneer Heroine of the Resistance. The place had a kind of approval from British Intelligence.
Staff turnover at the hotel was high, as young women left for the wartime forces. The hotel sought a middle-aged secretary for the club, thinking that a woman of this age would not go to war. Yvonne Rudellat was hired. But in the peculiar way that war transforms ordinary people into heroic figures, Rudellat was recruited to SOE by a club member and became, at 45, the third female agent sent into France by SOE—the first sent in by clandestine means. Code-named JACQUELINE, this native of France did the difficult work of receiving parachute drops and transporting explosives. She was one of two agents who set up and ran the Adolphe sub-network of the Prosper/Physician circuit. When the Germans penetrated Prosper, nearly 1,000 men and women, British and French, were arrested. Many, like Rudellat, died in concentration camps.
I had the pleasure of meeting Diana and Romer Topham here recently. Mrs. Topham came to London just before WWII to help with her brother’s bed-and-breakfast place at 24-26 Ebury Street. She never left, buying out his interest when he enlisted, then with her husband (after the war) buying the houses down to No. 32 for the expanding hotel. The Tophams retired in 1989 but stayed on. They tell me that a radio transceiver of unknown provenance was found in the attic of the adjoining No. 34 in the 1970s. Who might have owned and used that equipment? A German agent never caught by MI5? A Soviet ‘illegal’ transmitting on behalf of some never-discovered apparat?
Some more comments by Roy Berkeley:
On the east side of Baker Street is Michael House, 82 Baker Street. As SOE requisitioned ever more space in Baker Street, the secret organization became known to those who needed to refer to it as “Baker Street”—also as “The Racket” and “The Org” and “The Old Firm”. SOE had the top floor here above the head office of the department store Marks & Spencer.
Staff came and went unobtrusively through the mews at the rear. The pub at the entrance to the mews would have been an ideal place, I think, for a Nazi agent to linger over a pint, but Foot declares categorically that no enemy agents loitered nearby. Good thing, because chatter “about parachutes and boats and missions” could be heard in the Baker Street patisserie of Monsieur Richoux, writes Stella King in her book on SOE’s Yvonne Rudellat. Papa Richoux, luckily, was as discreet as some in SOE were indiscreet.
The charge that SOE was guilty of amateurism came first from MI6. The charge was true to a certain extent: SOE’s agents were amateurs at SOE’s work—except for the few professionals who were brought in to do SOE’s forgery work and to give instruction in lock-picking.
Recruitment was delicately handled. At the outset; candidates were told only in the second interview that perhaps they might do more for the war effort than be translators. By 1943, the informal sizing-up was replaced by a lengthy psychologists’ assessment. “This was a more scientific and perhaps a safer system,” Foot writes, “but it was a less individual one; and there was less chance in it for men of eccentricity and panache to find their way into a body original enough to get the best out of them.”
Training covered everything from raiding and demolition tactics to methods of silent killing. Agents learned how to be aggressive and self-reliant, how to live off the country, how to conceal their actions and personalities, how to deal with Gestapo interrogation. SOE also needed to change the self-image and world-view of these civilians very quickly—needed to empower them psychologically so they could do things that well-brought-up Britons wouldn’t dream of doing.
Asian martial arts figured prominently in the training; both William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes, who had been with the Shanghai police during the days of the International Settlement (Fairbairn as head of the force), taught SOE’s recruits (Fairbairn as head of combat training). The Fairbairn-Sykes knife was standard issue. It was good only for silent killing but it looked menacing enough and came to have a certain mystique—which is sometimes more valuable than anything real. The Fairbairn-Sykes knife did much to create the feeling of belonging to something important, even glamorous, and it helped to sustain the confidence and courage of people working alone and under constant stress.
Before Buckmaster’s agents went into the field, he gave each one a valuable memento: a gold compact for the women, gold cuff-links for the men. Agents could pawn the item, if necessary, or keep it as a reminder of the organization behind. Them—an organization that believed in them and depended on them and had given them in a few short weeks, in southern England or in the wilds of Scotland, the skills and gadgets for their own survival and for the destruction of the enemy.