WHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of my fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and the story was inspired by real events.
Marie Gilbert, code named Temperance, was inspired by the incredible Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne who served as a wireless operator in the Spiritualist Network in Occupied France under the code named “Rose.”
Like Temperance, Didi Nearne, her brother Francis, and her sister Jacqueline fled the Nazis as the German war machine rolled into France. They eventually made their way to Great Britain via Spain.
All three of the Nearnes entered service with the British Special Operations Executive, or SOE, which was called “Churchill’s secret army.” A group within the SOE was called the F Section Networks. These networks were established in France to transmit and receive coded messages just like Temperance does in Temperance’s Trial. Due to the ease of detection and the German’s determination to track down these operators, it was one of the most dangerous duties assigned to agents within the SOE.
While Didi’s sister, Jacqueline, was sent to France to act as a courier (much like Temperance’s friend, Prudence), Didi stayed in England as a signals operator and received the encoded messages coming from France. After some time, she volunteered to go to France and act as a wireless operator for the F Section.
On March 2, 1944, Didi became one of only 39 women to parachute into Occupied France. She used the aliases Mademoiselle du Tort, Jacqueline Duterte, and Alice Wood – and went by the code name “Rose”. She worked as part of Operation Mitchel, which organized finances for the resistance. During her first five months in France, she transmitted an astonishing 105 messages.
After many, many narrow escapes, including a time on a train when a Nazi soldier offered to carry the suitcase containing her wireless radio, Didi was finally arrested. While in Paris, she had sent a coded transmission from her room, much like my character Temperance. Within minutes, the Gestapo arrived and found her in possession of her wireless rig.
According to wartime records, Nearne “survived, in silence, the full revolting treatment of the baignoire” in the torture chamber of the Paris headquarters of the Gestapo on the banks of the Rue des Saussaies.
She nearly died from the torture. They beat her, stripped her, and repeatedly submerged her in a bath of ice cold water until she started to black out. Yet, she did not break. She stuck to her story of being an innocent French girl who had been duped into helping someone by sending messages she didn’t understand in return for money to buy eggs and bread.
She never once revealed her true identity. She never told of the other agents with whom she worked. Despite days of endless torture, she never gave up any information of planned operations.
At the time, Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne was only 23 years old.
On August 15, 1944, she was sent to the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin, and from there was sent through several forced labor camps. She refused to work in any of the camps, even under threat of being shot. Instead, she defied her captors to shoot her, and ended up being transferred each time instead.
Eventually, she ended up in a camp in Silesia. There Didi finally realized that the only way she would survive this experience would be to give in and work otherwise she would starve. During the bitter cold winter in December of 1944, the Nazis moved Didi to the Markleberg camp, near Leipzig, where she worked on a road-repair gang for 12 hours a day.
On April 13, 1945, while being transferred to yet another camp, along with two French girls from a work gang, Didi escaped. The trio evaded their pursuers by hiding in the forest. Astonishingly, they were apprehended by the SS in Markkleeberg, but she used her French language skills to fool her captors into letting them go. In Leipzig, a Catholic priest hid her until the arrival of the United States troops.
Sadly, American intelligence officers initially identified her as a Nazi collaborator and held her at a detention center alongside captured SS personnel. Once London verified her identity as a secret agent, the Americans finally released her.
After the war, Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government, that nation’s highest award given to foreigners, and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by King George VI for services rendered in France during the enemy occupation.
Given what she underwent at the hands of her captors for years and years, her very survival is remarkable. When asked how she kept going, she replied, “The will to live. Willpower. That’s the most important. You should not let yourself go. It seemed that the end would never come, but I always believed in destiny, and I had a hope.”
Didi lived with her sister Jacqueline until her sister’s death in 1982. Afterward, she lived alone, a total recluse, haunted by her experiences as a captive of the Gestapo.
When Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne died alone on September 2, 2010, it was several days before her death was discovered. It wasn’t until officials looking through her belongings hoping to find a relative whom they could contact that they discovered her true identity. Once they realized her incredible bravery and service, the entire community of Torbay, France, came together and gave her a funeral worthy of such an amazing war heroine with full military honors.
Read about Marie Gilbert, my character inspired by the story of Didi Nearne in Temperance’s Trial, part 1 of the Virtues and Valor series – free at all book retailers!
MARIE GILBERT and her elder brother flee from Vichy France after the Gestapo arrest her father for suspicion of aiding Jewish children to escape the oncoming fascist front. Once in London, Marie is recruited into an experimental all female cohort dubbed the Virtues, a collection of seven extraordinary women with highly specialized skills.