The Women of SOE

Female Agents and the French Resistance

  • Discover the former SOE headquarters in Baker Street and learn about its history
  • Meet friends and family of the brave women of the SOE at signifi cant sites connected to their stories
  • Travel alongside award-winning author, Clare Mulley, an expert on this tour’s subject

Churchill famously launched SOE, the secretive Special Operations Executive, in June 1940, with his rousing injunction to ‘set Europe ablaze’. The first agent was dropped into France the next year and over 400 would follow, 39 of whom were women. Their role was to support local resistance with the supply of arms and explosives, expertise and radio communications, and prepare for the Allied liberation. 91 of the men, and 13 women, would not return. From 1943, there was increasing demand for female agents to act as couriers and wireless transmitters in France, where their movements were less conspicuous. Three would be awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian decoration. One was Noor Inayat Khan, a Sufi Princess, who, for a while in 1944, provided the only wireless communications with Paris. We will discover where she was arrested, before visiting the infamous Avenue Foch - Gestapo HQ - where she was interrogated, before being sent to her death. Pearl Witherington initially served as a courier in Valencay, our last destination. When her circuit leader was captured, Pearl stepped up to command over 2,000 men. When, as a woman, she was offered civil rather than military honours, Pearl commented there had been nothing remotely ‘civil’ about her work. The dramatic and often tragic stories of female agents in France have attracted huge interest and this tour tells their brave story.

Itinerary 2019

Day 1

We meet in central London and begin our tour with a visit to the South Bank to see the SOE memorial, topped by a bust of Violette Szabo. We then travel to Stockwell to see Szabo’s old house, now proudly sporting a blue plaque. In South Kensington, we visit sites associated with Krystyna Skarbek – also known as Christine Granville – including the Polish Hearth Club, the Polish Museum that houses her medals and the Hotel Shelbourne where she was murdered after the war. After lunch we see Krystyna’s grave and memorial plaque at Kensal Green Roman Catholic cemetery. We then travel to the former SOE Headquarters on Baker Street. In Bloomsbury, we see Noor Inayat Khan’s former home and visit her statue in Gordon Square Gardens. In the evening, we have an introductory lecture from Clare on the Women of SOE.

Hotel: London Pullman
Meals: Lunch & dinner included

Day 2

In the morning, we travel from St Pancras to Paris by Eurostar and have lunch on board. In the afternoon, we visit the Inayat Khan family home before continuing on to Grignon, where the radio transmitter for the Bricklayer circuit was based and where Noor Inayat Khan narrowly escaped capture. We return to Paris to visit the Rue Erlanger, near the Bois du Boulogne, which was the base of the Cinema SOE network. We go to the Rue de Faisanderie and see the apartment above the bakery where Noor was arrested after betrayal. Our final stop of the day is the Avenue Foch, the location of the infamous Gestapo Headquarters where many female agents were interrogated before their deportation to concentration camps. 

Hotel: Millenium Hotel, Paris
Meals: All meals included

Day 3

In the morning, we visit Pont Neuf, where Eileen Nearne met her contact at the King Henri IV statue. We go to the Boulevard St Michel, her first Paris radio transmitter base, and 11 Rue de Saussaies, the former Gestapo headquarters that has original cells. Eileen was interrogated and tortured here, before being sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. After lunch we concentrate on Lilian Rolfe, including a visit to the safe house where she was arrested. We travel to Chateauroux, arriving at our next hotel in the early evening for a lecture on Krystyna Skarbek before dinner.

Hotel: Valencay BW Colbert, Chateauroux
Meals: All meals included

Day 4

In the morning we drive to Tendu, near Chateauroux, to see the parachute site where Pearl Witherington was dropped in September 1943 to serve as a courier for Maurice Southgate, leader of the Stationer network. We hear how Pearl served as the Wrestler network leader from May 1944 onwards. We stop in Blois for lunch and a visit to the Museum of Resistance before continuing on to the site of Chateau des Souches, the network Headquarters, east of Valencay. Later, we visit sites associated with the Maquis resistance army as, commanded by Pearl, they fought pitched battles against the Germans in the aftermath of D-Day.

Hotel: Valencay BW Colbert, Chateauroux
Meals: All meals included

Day 5

In the morning we visit the Chateauroux sites associated with the first SOE agent dropped into France. We then visit the Valencay SOE Memorial to the 104 SOE F Sections agents who died in France and pay our respects. After lunch, we return to Paris for an early evening Eurostar train back to London.

Meals: Breakfast & lunch included

What's Included

  1. Tour Manager & Guide Lecturer
  2. Meals - Most meals included
  3. Transport - All local travel and return Eurostar
  4. Hand-picked hotels throughout the tour