Odette Hallowes remembered by her granddaughter.
Odette Hallowes GC, MBE, Legion d’honneur (28 April 1912 – 13 March 1995) was an Allied Intelligence agent during World War 2. In this three part series, her granddaughter, Sophie, shares Odette’s story.
Odette was born in 1912 in Northern France and it was never her intention to be a war hero. She had moved to England when she married an Englishman and together they had three daughters, the eldest was my mother, Francoise.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Odette’s husband was called away to fight which left her at home bringing up the children. Vividly remembering that her own father had been killed in the First World War, it grieved her that so many men were being killed again. She was distressed by all the suffering and she was frightened of what the future would bring for her family.
As time went on, Odette, like so many other women, watched the war unrolling and desperately wanted to do her bit to help. Her chance came quite by accident in the Spring of 1942 when Odette responded to a radio appeal from the Admiralty to hand in old photographs of the coastline of France. They wanted to get as much information as possible about the coastline of Normandy to help with their planned attacks on the German forces there. Odette had a large cache of pictures from her childhood and sent them off. To her amazement, she received a letter from the War Office inviting her to come and talk.
When she went for the interview, it seemed the War Office thought her knowledge of France and her ability to speak both French and English fluently would be very useful to them and Odette was invited to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE). This had been set up by Winston Churchill to send people to occupied countries to work undercover against the Germans as Secret Agents and to support the resistance armies.
Odette was stunned by the offer but remembering the thousands of children and people whose lives had been torn apart due to the cruel Nazi regime, she agreed to go. Uppermost in her mind were her three children: she wanted to help build a secure future for them, a world where they would be safe and have their freedom.
To prepare for France, Odette had very little training. The nature of SOE was that the members needed to seem unremarkable so they would be undetectable as they carried out their work. She was given basic information about self-defence, Morse code, shooting, how to avoid capture and how to deal with questioning if she was caught by the enemy.
Not able to tell her children or anyone else what she was really doing, Odette pretended that she was going to Scotland for a while and crossed over to occupied France with just a few possessions in a small suitcase. She had been given the code-name Lise, forged French papers and a full cover story.
Odette joined a circuit headed up by SOE member Captain Peter Churchill. Their mission was to organise, train and arm the resistance armies who were fighting against the Germans, find safe houses for other agents and arrange for their identity cards. She frequently worked in full view of German Officers. One of the most important and terrifyingly dangerous jobs she carried out was to collect a suitcase containing the plans of the docks in Marseille, something the Allies needed to plan their invasion of occupied France.
Together with Arnaud, a radio operator, Odette would send and receive coded messages from London. She also found suitable airfields for allied aircraft to land and drop supplies and weapons. On one occasion Odette and her team were almost captured and it was only by immersing herself in an icy river that she was able to avoid detection by the enemy. Throughout this period, Odette yearned for her children in England and longed to be reunited with them.