World War II hero and spy to be buried in council grave

September 13, 2010 | by | 8 Comments

A real-life ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is to be buried in a council grave with no family to mourn her passing despite being a decorated war hero who was tortured by the Nazis but escaped – THREE TIMES.

JUST IN: Eileen to get proper burial

Brave Eileen Nearne, MBE, was discovered dead following a heart attack in her tiny flat aged 89 and officials have been unable to trace anyone to pay for her funeral.

Neighbours in Torquay, Devon, described Eileen as a recluse who never had any visitors and she will now be buried in a council grave.

But officials who searched Eileen’s home found piles of documents which revealed she ran secret missions during the Second World War.

Fearless Eileen was based with the UK’s Special Operations Executive and served in occupied France as a radio operator under the codename ‘Rose’.

In 1944, Eileen, then aged 23, was sent to an aircraft base in France to work as a wireless operator with the cover name Mademoiselle du Tort.

Eileen – who spoke fluent French – was later caught using her radio set and taken into custody by the Gestapo who tortured her for information.

But despite the abuse they were unable to break her and she convinced them she was just a ‘little shop girl’ who knew nothing of undercover war operations.

She was released but captured again by the Germans but managed to escape a labour camp with two fellow prisoners.

They were later arrested by the SS but were set free after Eileen again used her language skills to convince the captors they were innocent.

She was awarded the MBE for her services during the war but became a recluse and was found dead of natural causes on September 2.

The lack of any next of kin means that Torbay Council will now pay for her funeral and local residents say they had no idea they were living next door to a WW2 hero.

Neighbour Steven Cook said: ”I have known her for about six years and she was very reclusive. I believe she had lived in the area for 20 to 25 years.

”She had been going down hill for some time. I have been told she died of a heart attack and I don’t think she had been dead all that long.

”We thought she may have been in the French Resistance from rumours and hearsay over the years.

”I was very surprised at the extent of her heroism. You would never have thought it, as she never spoke of it. I just want everyone to know what she had done in her past.”

Experts, including at the Imperial War Museum’s national archive, say Ms Nearne was born in London to an English father and Spanish mother.

She was the youngest of three children and her older sister, Jacqueline, and brother, Francis, also became SOE operatives.

In 1923 the family moved to France but when the country fell she made her way to England with her sister, through Portugal and Gibraltar.

On her arrival she was offered service in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force working on barrage balloons.

But she turned the job down and was recruited by the SOE from which she was commissioned in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.

Her early SOE experiences came while working at listening stations in Britain where messages to and from agents were sent and received.

On March 2, 1944, she was flown by Lysander aircraft to a field near Les Lagnys in France to work as a wireless operator for the Wizard network as part of Operation Mitchel.

Her cover story was that she was Mademoiselle du Tort – although she also used the aliases Jacqueline Duterte and Alice Wood.

Four months later she was caught using her radio set but, even after torture, persuaded the Gestapo that she was just a little French girl who was not part of Allied forces.

On August 15 the same year she was caught again and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany and later transferred to a forced labour camp in Silesia, on the German border.

Eileen befriended two French girls and on April 13, 1945, the three of them escaped from the forced labour gang they were working in.

They hid in the forest before travelling through Markkleeberg (corr) where they were arrested by the SS.

But again Eileen ingenuity and linguistic skill proved to be life-saving because they were released after she convinced their captors of their innocence.

The three women were then hidden by a priest in Leipzig until the arrival of United States troops.

After the war Eileen lived in London with her sister and it is thought she moved to Torquay two decades ago.

She was found dead in her flat on September 2 after neighbours became concerned for her welfare.

Among items found in her home were discontinued French currency, an array of correspondence written in French and a selection of medals.

The South Devon coroner said Eileen died of natural causes so there will be no inquest.

A funeral service will be held at Drakes Chapel in Hele Road, Torquay, on September 21 at 11am.

Torbay Council said it is looking into the possibilities of having her medals buried with her.

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Comments (8)

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  1. Qarloclobrigny says:

    can we get this woman a proper memorial?
    dave green atlanta, ga. usa

  2. Mhennessy says:

    it is not right for someone like this to be buried without honour or memorial.
    Her medals should be put on display for everyone to see as no one will see them in a grave.
    I just love brave people, RIP.

    Regards,
    M.Hennessy,
    NSW,Australia.

  3. Dave Courtney says:

    Her medals should be put on permanant disply somewhere in the Torquay Area, together with the story of her life, dave courtney. Southend on Sea Essex.

  4. Tmrobs says:

    Surely she should be given an heroes funeral after all she is one the few remaining unsung
    and sadly forgotten secret soldiers, its the very least her Country can do

  5. Lenny Vee says:

    I, like some of the other posters who have already commented on this story, could not believe that the Council are going to bury her medals in the grave with her.But then, that is Torbay council for you.
    As I was reading this story I also thought that they should go on permanent display in the museum. She, and many others like her are the reason that we are not wearing jack boots and speaking German in this country and as such , deserves the glory and honour that she rightfully earned with her bravery

  6. Rosie.B says:

    May God bless her. May her soul rest in peace

  7. Rosie.B says:

    May God bless her. May her soul rest in peace

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