Monday, August 23, 2021

Kate Vigurs's "Mission France"

Kate Vigurs is a freelance historian, academic advisor, and researcher. Her postdoctoral research was used for the BBC World War One at Home series.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Her primary concern was her family, and she found saying goodbye to her widowed mother the most painful thing she had ever had to do. She told her mother a half-truth, saying she was going abroad, but to Africa; she had found maintaining the deception cruel. Vera asked Noor if there was anything she could do to help with family matters, and Noor replied that, if she went missing, SOE should as far as possible avoid worrying her mother.

Noor’s ‘dreamy’ nature and inability to lie had been raised, alongside other security issues, by nearly every member of staff who came into contact with her. Quite simply, Noor was not felt to be suitable agent material, but was the product in a chain of human supply and demand, evidenced by the fact that Buckmaster overrode the instructors. He had known from the moment he took her on that Noor had the wireless skills and knowledge of France that he required. From Buckmaster’s perspective, any wireless operator was better than no wireless operator.

After landing by Lysander in the Loire valley, Noor was to become known by her false identity of Jeane-Marie Regnier, her codename was ‘Nurse’ and her field name to her colleagues in the circuit was ‘Madeleine’ (and later ‘Rolande’). During her first few days, Noor met her organiser Émile Garry, but she did not move out to her original destination of Le Mans; Garry was spending part of his time in Paris with his fiancée, so Noor also stayed there. Noor’s first wireless transmission on behalf of PHONO was received in England on 22 June 1943, but just days later, Noor stood by as much of PROSPER, ‘parent’ circuit to PHONO, fell apart around her.

The disaster had started on 15 June. Yvonne Rudellat and Pierre Culioli of PROSPER received two Canadian F Section agents, John Macalister and Frank Pickersgill. The following night, Noor, Cicely and Diana arrived in the area, which was fraught with tension and enemy activity. The agents kept their heads down and tried to remain as safe as possible. However, it was not that easy for Yvonne and Culioli
This test works well for my book, the page is an extremely important part of the history Mission France is addressing and offers critical analysis of the decisions, thought processes and personality traits of two key players – Maurice Buckmaster and Noor Inayat Khan. It also begins to unravel one of the worst disasters to befall the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in France during World War Two – the fall of the PROSPER network. This test shows that page 99 holds important information at a pivotal point in the book's narrative as well as a key example of the author's critique and point of view.

The test reveals a key question that SOE historians address today, were any mistakes made in recruiting of agents and why was this specific agent (Noor) allowed to progress to the most dangerous of roles when so many believed her to be unsuitable. It addresses issues of agent selection and of human’ supply and demand’ - an ugly but essential part of SOE’s role during the war against fascism.

The people involved in the events on this page are both controversial and provoke widespread discussion and debate. The fact they both appear on this page and Buckmaster's influence over Noor’s very life is fascinating. The characters and these choices will appear time and again throughout the book, even to the point where Buckmaster will say he did nothing to endanger anyone’s life, and yet against others' judgement he decided to send Noor, a decision for which she paid a terrible price.
Visit Kate Vigurs's website.

--Marshal Zeringue