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British agent ‘Paulette’ played a vital part in preparing Resistance fighters for D-Day

Posted in Espionage, Historical articles, History, Invasions, World War 2 on Friday, 17 January 2014

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This edited article about World War Two first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 516 published on 4 December 1971.

D-Day, picture, image, illustration

D-Day landings

For three days and nights 20-year-old Anne-Marie Walters and a group of escaped Allied prisoners had been on the run from the Gestapo. They were climbing over the Pyrenees Mountains in an attempt to reach the safety of neutral Spain, but had lost their way, used up their food, and spent most of their energy.

During the day the sun blazed mercilessly down on the saw-like mountain range, and after dark it became cold and misty. It seemed to Anne-Marie that she and the men she was helping would never elude the pursuing Germans. And that the mission on which she had so hopefully started was doomed to failure.

It was in December 1943 that Anne-Marie, a British Intelligence agent, had been parachuted into France, near the port of Bordeaux. Her instructions were to act as a go-between for the British Government and members of the growing French Resistance movement.

Britain and her allies planned to invade Nazi-occupied Europe in the following June. The invasion would take place along the Normandy beaches, and it was essential that Anne-Marie – and her fellow special agents – contacted the leaders of the local maquis, or guerrilla, groups.

After sheltering at a friendly farm, Anne-Marie was introduced to a man known simply as Le Patron, or the boss. He told her that she would be given a code-name, and that from now on would be called “Paulette.”

The newly-named Paulette’s first important job was smuggling fifteen escaped prisoners-of-war into Spain. She did this so successfully that she was then assigned to help a French policeman – who also worked for the Resistance – to make his getaway.

The couple had one nasty moment when the train on which they were travelling was suddenly boarded by a group of Gestapo officers. Everyone on the train was asked for their identity papers, and Paulette, who had a revolver concealed in her clothing, only just succeeded in bluffing her way through the ordeal.

After this her reputation and usefulness rose. Le Patron promoted her to more dangerous work, and she was ordered to help in the proposed destruction of an armament factory in Toulouse.

To prepare her for this – and to again test her courage – she was made to jump out of a first floor window. Then, having proved she could make a respectable escape attempt, she was given a hair-do which made her look like a typical city girl.

Her new hair-style gave Paulette the confidence to roam at will through the streets of Toulouse, scouting out the land and noting how many patrols and sentries there were at the factory.

Her information proved to be invaluable. And although she did not take part in the actual blowing-up of the factory, it could not have been achieved without her preliminary work.

By now the name of “Paulette” was becoming known to the Gestapo. A search was instigated for the notorious woman agent, and to her alarm and horror Anne-Marie learnt that a girl had been arrested and accused of being her!

What made the mistake all the more remarkable was the fact that both the girls had eaten their lunch in the same restaurant in Toulouse, and at roughly the same time. From then on Anne-Marie realized that every German in south-west France would be on the look-out for her.

A short while after this, she had another nerve-racking experience on a train. This time the Gestapo men went up and down the corridors, opening cases at random. To most of the travellers this was no more than an inconvenience – but Paulette’s case was filled with guns and ammunition!

For a moment she panicked, and considered drawing her gun or trying to leap from the speeding train. But, as luck would have it, the officer who approached her was more interested in the luggage belonging to another woman, and fortunately Paulette’s was not searched.

The agent had another narrow escape from capture when visiting a Resistance leader in Paris. He was arrested shortly before her arrival, and she was told that the Germans were waiting in his house to seize her too.

She left the capital in a hurry, and began preparing for D-Day – the 6th June when the first Allied troops were scheduled to land in Northern France.

To help maintain morale among the French people, she listened to the forbidden BBC news bulletins, and then typed the items on to sheets of paper which she copied and distributed among the Resistance members.

It was no longer possible for her to stay in any one place for long. The Gestapo were always just a few moves away from catching her, and she was constantly forced to flee from them.

As the Germans apprehended more and more of the maquis, Paulette was pushed further south towards the Spanish border. She carried with her confidential documents relating to the Resistance work in the area, and was given some bullets and a Stengun with which to defend herself.

Before long she had occasion to use these as the car she was in was fired on by German soldiers. At the time a fierce battle was raging between the guerrillas and the Nazis – who outnumbered the maquis by more than five to one.

Paulette only escaped by firing from the fast-moving car. She then told the Spanish driver to make for Bordeaux, where she hoped to make contact with a group of British parachutists who were arriving to help organize the underground activities.

After this had been done, Paulette knew that her days as an agent were numbered. She had been on the run ever since parachuting into France some six months before. But Le Patron decided to send her on one last, vital mission.

This was when she was told to escort the group of escaped prisoners across the Pyrenees and into Spain. The plan was to get them to Gibraltar, from where they could sail home to London.

The mission started promisingly enough, but at the end of three days Anne-Marie was beginning to despair. With no food left, and no proper sense of direction, it seemed as if the pursuing Gestapo would catch up with her at last.

The Nazis were fast on her heels on the morning she and her companions stumbled into a small village, and discovered to their joy that they were in Spanish territory!

Anne-Marie Walter’s career as a special agent in France was over. The D-Day landings proved to be successful, and the Resistance fighters helped to drive the Germans back into their own country.

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