The scatter-brained spy who fooled the Nazis

 Eileen Nearne
"She is not very intelligent or practical and is lacking in shrewdness and cunning. She has a bad memory, is inaccurate and scatter-brained. She seems keen, but her work was handicapped by lack of the power to concentrate.

In character she is very 'feminine' and immature; she seems to lack all experience of the world and would probably be easily influenced by others. She is lively and amusing and has considerable charm and social gifts. She talks a lot and is anxious to draw attention to herself, but was generally liked by the other students.” 
- An assessment by a supervisor in January 1944

Eileen Nearne was trained in Britain to be an undercover spy in France during World War II. Her skills were useful because she could speak fluent French. She was dropped into Nazi-occupied France when she was 22 years old.

She set up a wireless link to London to help organize French funding for the resistance. If someone in France wanted to give money to the resistance, he wanted to make sure his contact was real, so he would give Ms. Nearne a phrase which she would transmit to London. Then that message, along with many other coded messages to the French resistance, would be broadcast by the BBC. If potential funders heard their own phrase, they knew that the people they were dealing with were legitimate and not German spies.

When her French contact returned to London she worked alone, sending information about German troop movements.

But the Germans got better at tracking wireless transmissions, and after many close calls, she was caught by the Gestapo, four months after she arrived in France.

She was tortured by being beaten and nearly drowned in ice-cold water, but she maintained her story that a businessman had told her to send the message, and gave the Germans no useful information.

She was sent to a concentration camp. During a forced march she escaped and was arrested by German troops but convinced them she was French. Finally, her location was overrun by American soldiers, who did not believe her story that she was a British spy. Said the American troops:
"Subject creates a very unbalanced impression. She often is unable to answer the simplest questions, as though she were impersonating someone else. Her account of what happened to her after her landing near Orleans is held to be invented."
She was locked up with other captured SS personnel. Finally, London confirmed her story, and she returned to England. She told an interviewer:
"It was a life in the shadows, but I think I was suited for it. I could be hard and secret, I could be lonely, I could be independent, but I wasn't bored. I liked the work. After the war, I missed it."
She never married, and died at the age of 89.

Eileen Nearne, Wartime Spy, Dies at 89, The New York Times>>
WWII heroine Eileen Nearne was not "suitable" to be spy , BBC>>
Eileen Nearne, The Telegraph>>

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