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Inside the secret life of WW2 heroine who served in Sir Winston Churchill’s secret army – as she dies at 102

A WORLD War Two heroine who served in Sir Winston Churchill’s secret army has died aged 102.

Phyllis Latour was the last survivor of the French section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) which was ordered by Churchill to “Set Europe ablaze!” for the occupying Nazis.


Phyllis Latour, the last survivor of Sir Winston Churchill’s secret army has died
She was described as having "tons of guts"


She was described as having “tons of guts”
The heroine lived a long life and died aged 102


The heroine lived a long life and died aged 102Credit: AFP

Phyllis, whose codename was Genevieve among many others, was one of 39 female agents who risked their lives as a spy behind enemy lines.

Born in South Africa, her father died when she was three months old and her mother remarried but then died, leaving Phyllis orphaned.

At the age of three she was sent to live with her father’s cousin in the Congo, where she led an outdoors life, being educated at home and then at Kenya High School, Nairobi, before moving to England in 1939.

She first joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force at age 20 in 1941 to work as a flight mechanic, but SOE recruiters spotted her potential and offered her a job as a spy.

After a close family friend – her godmother’s father who she viewed as her grandfather – had been shot by the Nazis, she was eager to support the war effort however she could.

Phyllis immediately accepted the SOE’s offer and began an intensive training program.

In addition to learning about encryption and surveillance, trainees also had to pass gruelling physical tests and even learnt about accessing buildings from a cat burglar.

She first deployed to Aquitaine in Vichy France where she worked for a year as a spy using the codename Genevieve.

The French resistance in the area was sabotaging key transport links, disrupting German forces as they fought the Allied advance.

For this they needed supplies – dropped by air from Britain – and aerial support.

The messages being sent by Genevieve were vital intelligence from inside enemy territory, but they came with several close shaves.

Working behind German lines, as the fighting grew closer, was incredibly dangerous, but she never lost her nerve.

She had “tons of guts” according to her citation for the MBE at the end of the war.

Another dangerous mission, however, began on May 1, 1944 when she jumped out of a U.S. Air Force bomber and landed behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Normandy.

In an interview with the New Zealand Army News magazine, she described how risky the mission was, noting that “The men who had been sent just before me were caught and executed.

“I was told I was chosen for that area [of France] because I would arouse less suspicion.”


She carried her silken, one-time codes, inserted with a knitting needle into a flat shoelace, which she used as a hair-tie.

When arrested and strip-searched, Phyllis casually threw her hair-tie on her pile of clothing and shook her hair to show that she was not hiding anything.

During her months in Normandy, she sent 135 secret messages conveying invaluable information on Nazi troop positions.

This was used to help Allied forces prepare for the Normandy landings on D-Day and during the subsequent military campaign.

After she married, she became known as Pippa Doyle, moved to New Zealand, and rarely spoke about her wartime career.

For many years she kept silent, she told the New Zealand Army News magazine in 2009: ” didn’t have good memories of the war, so I didn’t bother telling anyone what I did.

“I knew I would have been owed campaign medals, but I wasn’t interested in any if the people who had helped me in France did not receive them too.

“My eldest son found out by reading something on the internet, and my children insisted I send off for my medals.

“I was asked if I wanted them to be formally presented to me, and I said no, I didn’t. It was my family who really wanted them.” 

In 2014 she was appointed a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by the French government in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/24401903/inside-secret-life-ww2-heroine-dies-102/ Inside the secret life of WW2 heroine who served in Sir Winston Churchill’s secret army – as she dies at 102

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