Article by Henry Samuel for The Telegraph, May 5, 2011:
Captain Robert (Bob) Maloubier was an agent of the French section of the Special Operations Executive, or SOE. Churchill’s “secret army” was created to “set Europe ablaze” by encouraging and facilitating espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines during the Second World War.
Mr Maloubier, then only 20, took part in a string of daring missions in occupied France as a weapons trainer and demolitions expert, helping blow up a power station, a steel plant, and a submarine tender as well as preparing the ground for D-Day.
He gives his first full-blown account of his wartime operations in “Winston Churchill’s Secret Agent”, released in France today.
“The French are a bit jingoistic; they think they freed themselves all alone. One always hears about the French resistance,” Mr Maloubier, 88, told the Daily Telegraph. “The influence of the SOE, experts who came over to train the French, has had very little coverage in France.
“We were very few in number after the war, how could we compete with political post-war resistance movements? We didn’t have our place.”
On Friday Mr Maloubier, one of three remaining French SOE members, will commemorate alongside the Princess Royal the 70th anniversary of the air drop of the first SOE agent at Valencay, central France, and the 104 agents who died in the line of duty.
Between Georges Bégué’s first drop, in May 1941, and August 1944, more than four hundred F Section agents were sent into occupied France.
After escaping France aged 17 for Tunisia then Algiers, Mr Maloubier joined the SOE’s Special Detachment and spent six months in Britain learning how the arts of sabotage, killing and avoiding capture.
In one chapter, he provides an account of his narrow escape from German field gendarmes in Rouen on 20 December 1943.
On his way to pick up equipment and stores from a night parachute drop on a motorbike, he was stopped by German police. His companion, a forger, ran off, but “Bob” was ordered to remount his cycle with a German sitting behind him pressing a revolver into his neck.
In the final straight before the police station, he managed to throw off his German passenger, hurl the bike at him and run. As he fled, the Germans shot him through the lung but he managed to cross a field and dive into a frozen ditch to put the dogs off his scent.
“I said to myself, you’re dead. Nobody gets shot through the intestines and lung and survives”. However, in agonising pain, he managed to walk several miles back to his Rouen home and up six flights of stairs.
After clandestine surgery, he was flown back to England weeks later by an SOE “moonlight squadron” bomber, and was back in France by June.
After the war, Mr Maloubier’s life of action continued when he joined the fledgling French special services. He went on to found the French equivalent of the US Navy Seals, and designed the legendary Fifty Fathoms diving watch worn by Jacques Cousteau.
France has in recent years been reassessing the role of its citizens during the war, amid claims post-war historians exaggerated the number of French who joined the resistance.
For more on WWII, see The World in Flames: A World War II Sourcebook (Oxford University Press, 2010)