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Water boarding and concentration camps — the story of Agent Rose

By Herald Express  |  Posted: September 07, 2012

  • HEROINE: Bernard O'Connor with his book Agent Rose, the story of WWII spy Eileen Nearne, inset

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THE intriguing double life of Torquay wartime heroine Eileen Nearne has been captured in a new book.

Agent Rose, by author Bernard O'Connor and published by Amberley, reveals the extent of the bravery she displayed in the face of mortal danger.

Compiled with photographs and research from Eileen's niece Odile Nearne and the National Archives, the book reveals how the Second World War undercover agent suffered early forms of water board torture and was initially dismissed by her own superiors for being 'scatterbrained' and 'immature'.

Miss Nearne died a lonely death in her Torquay flat in September 29, 2011, aged 89.

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She was destined for a pauper's funeral until a neighbour recalled earlier conversations with Eileen, and then papers were found by council cleaners which hinted at her incredible story.

News of the heroine soon gained international attention, and her full military honours funeral service was broadcast across the globe.

Mr O'Connor, who lives near RAF Tempsford, the top secret airfield in Bedfordshire from where most of the secret agents were flown, had a keen interest in the lives of the undercover agents.

He came across Eileen's story and that of her sister Jacqueline while researching for an earlier book The Women of RAF Tempsford.

He was helped in his research by Odile, who was traced after Eileen's death.

Mr O'Connor said: "It included what I'd found about Eileen and her sister Jacqueline.

"Following Eileen's death, I scanned the newspaper reports to see if there were additional snippets that I could add and, thanks to genealogists who traced her niece Odile, I made contact with her, offered her a copy of my book and so began an ongoing communication.

"I'd been asked by the commissioning editor to write another. I chose Eileen so had lots of questions about her family background which Odile kindly answered. Over time, I sent drafts of my work and she was able to add comments. She very kindly provided copies of the photographs which enhance the book dramatically, and asked me to write another book of Jacqueline — which I've done but I've not approached a publisher."

Mr O' Connor uncovered recently published files which showed that just two months before she was dropped behind enemy lines, Eileen's superiors had their doubts about her spy skills.

But she proved them wrong and ended up providing crucial intelligence to help Allied forces defeat Hitler's Nazi Germany.

She was flown into France just before her 23rd birthday in March 1944 to work as a wireless operator. She also went by the names of Jacqueline Duterte, Alice Wood, Rose, Pioneer and Petticoat during her spy work.

In July 1944, her transmitter was detected and she was arrested on July 25, 1944, at a house in Bourg-la-Reine, south of Paris, when the Gestapo stormed the hideout.

She survived the women's concentration camp of Ravensbruck in Germany and escaped a forced labour camp.

She escaped from the Germans three times in a year.

Her civilian life was in stark contrast to her exploits and in later years she lived as a recluse at her home in Lisburne Crescent.

Odile said: "Agent Rose is a tribute to the courageous life of my aunt Eileen Nearne, who dedicated herself totally to the liberation of France from the Nazi occupation. She was so patriotic she was willing to face danger on her mission in Paris, and was prepared to risk her life for her ideal.

"She did not give herself away, but stuck to her story when captured and tortured, thus managing to save others from certain death.

"She didn't want any glory while alive, and always kept a low profile, so it's only right that she be honoured now for her sacrifice, through this book. It's due to people like her that we can live in peace today.

"There's a message to be learnt from my aunt's life. If we want the world to be a better place to live in, we have to take example from her, by doing good deeds, helping others in need with charity and by being modest. She was a light in the dark.

"I'm truly happy that this book is able to portray what a remarkable heroine she was, and I'm very proud to be her niece."

Copies of the book can be bought from Mr O'Connor by email on FQuirk202@aol.com or website www.bernardocon nor.org.uk

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