The Women of SOE
Churchill launched the SOE, the secretive Special Operations Executive, in June 1940. The mission? To “set Europe ablaze”. The first agent was dropped into France the next year, and over 400 would follow - 39 were women. From 1943 there was increasing demand for female agents to act as couriers and wireless transmitters in France, where their movement was less conspicuous. Join us as we uncover three of the most effective female agents in occupied France - whose work was critically important to the war effort. Sufi Princess Noor Inayat Khan, provided Britain’s only wireless communications with Paris in 1944. Discover where she was arrested, and visit Avenue Foch, Gestapo HQ, where she was interrogated before she was sent to her death. Eileen Nearn also operated from Paris, her solitary death in 2010 made national headlines but her story is still not well known - we hope to right that on tour. Pearl Witherington initially served as a courier in Valencay, our last destination. When her circuit leader was captured, she stepped up to command over 2,000 men. The operations of resistance circuits in Europe are credited with shortening the War by at least six months. When, as a woman, Pearl Witherington was offered civil rather than military honours, she commented there had been nothing remotely ‘civil’ about her work...
We meet in central London and begin our tour by visiting Kensal Green Roman Catholic cemetery to see Krystyna Skarbek’s grave and memorial plaque. We then travel to Baker Street to see the former SOE Headquarters. In Bloomsbury, we see Noor Inayat Khan’s former home and visit Gordon Square Gardens, where there is a memorial statue. After lunch, we visit the South Bank and see the SOE memorial, topped by a bust of Violette Szabo. We then travel to Stockwell to see Szabo’s old house, now proudly sporting a blue plaque. We end the day visiting sites associated with Krystyna Skarbek in South Kensington, including the Polish Hearth Club, the Polish Museum that houses her medals and the hotel where she was mysteriously murdered. In the evening, we have an introductory lecture on the Women of SOE. Overnight London.
Paris: Noor Inayat Khan
We travel to Paris by Eurostar and have lunch onboard. In the afternoon, we visit the Rue Erlanger, near the Bois du Boulogne, which was the base of the Cinema network. We visit Grignon, where the radio transmitter for the Bricklayer circuit was based and where Noor Inayat Khan narrowly escaped capture. We go to the Rue de Faisanderie and see the apartment above the bakery where Noor Inayat Khan was arrested after she was betrayed to the Gestapo. Our final stop of the day is the Avenue Foch, the location of the infamous Gestapo Headquarters where many female agents were interrogated before their deportation to concentration camps. Overnight Paris.
Paris: Eileen Nearne
In the morning, we visit Pont Neuf, where Eileen Nearne met her contact at the King Henri IV statue. We go to the Boulevard St Michel, her first Paris radio transmitter base and 11 rue de Saussaies, the former Gestapo headquarters that has original cells. Eileen Nearne was interrogated and tortured here, before being sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. In the late afternoon, we travel to Valencay followed by an evening lecture. Overnight Valencay.
Valencay: Pearl Witherington
In the morning, we visit the Valencay SOE Memorial to the 104 SOE F Sections agents who died in France and pay our respects. We drive to Tendu, near Chateauroux, to see the parachute site where Pearl Witherington was dropped in September 1943, to serve as a courier for Maurice Southgate, leader of the Stationer network. We hear how PW served as the Wrestler network leader from May 1944 onwards and visit the site of Chateau de Souches, the network Headquarters, east of Valencay. Overnight Valencay.
Valencay - Paris - London
In the morning, we visit sites associated with the Maquis as, commanded by Pearl Witherington, they fought large pitched battles against the Germans in the aftermath of D-Day. After lunch, we return to Paris and in the late afternoon, catch our Eurostar train back to London.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Historical Trips Tour Manager
- Meals - All meals included with water (wine with dinners)
- Hotels - 4 nights in 4* hotels in London, Paris and Valencay
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in program; tips included
Revolution in the air, war afoot…
The 20th century saw the world dominated by war. It was a time of unknowing atrocity and dubious morality; an age of resistance, risk and revolution.
Take an alternative look at 1940, examining what could have been, had Operation Sea Lion gone ahead. Uncover the Nazis’ Face of Evil, following their beginnings in Munich’s beer halls to the Nuremberg trials.
In this modern era, victims of war are more distant and responsibility more dubious. Travel with us as we examine whose hands are stained with innocent blood; and question who is to blame for the horrors inflicted upon mankind...