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Secret War, Yesterday | reviews, news & interviews

Secret War, Yesterday

Secret War, Yesterday

A war heroine gets turned over. Or does she?

Face of a heroine - or a traitor?

The dramatic music, blue-tinged reconstructions and menacing voiceover all suggested that we should be sceptical of World War Two heroine Vera Atkins. The title of the programme indeed, Secret War: The Spymistress and the French Fiasco, told us how we should feel. We know that she was a brave member of the Special Operations Executive, the British department responsible for secret agents in occupied lands, but thankfully this programme came along to debunk her. Or did it?

There is a filmic narrative of redemption here: she was looking not just for her agents - but for atonement

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SOE has been long plagued by misrepresentation and poor research. Unfortunately Secret War seems to be continuing the tradition. The suggestion that Atkins and Buckmaster knowingly sent agents to their deaths has no basis in fact. True, security checks were missed, but this system was far from perfect and wireless security was overlooked in many other cases. F Section was certainly guilty of incompetence (as were other sections) but there's no evidence to point to a cover-up, and it's to SOE's detriment that these kinds of stories are still given coverage.

Allied Special Forces Comment 20th June 2011 In response to the denouncement of Vera Atkins in Secrets and Spies - Radio Times article page 35 by Matthew Barrett and the programme shown on Secret War Monday 9pm 20th June 2011 by the Yesterday channel “The dead cannot answer back” But we will! Squadron Leader Vera Atkins 1908-2000 CBE, Legion d’honneur & Croix de Guerre Vera came to Britain well before the start of the second world war. In doing so she and her family escaped the persecution of the Jewish faith in Romania. She then went to France to study modern languages and had to leave when the Germans invaded and it was dangerous to be a Jew. This well educated, attractive and intelligent young women had many friends and acquaintances in the international community due to her late fathers business expertise. Her natural, and studied knowledge of the French and German languages led her in 1941 to the S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive. Authorised by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to “conduct warfare by means other than direct engagement”. Its “mission” was to encourage and facilitate espionage and sabotage by the people of the occupied countries. Vera’s knowledge of Europe and of France in particular was soon noticed by “F” section SOE and she eventually became their Intelligence Officer. Her role was the handling all of the agents being sent behind enemy lines into occupied France. At the age of 33 she had the unpleasant job of sending young women to war, knowing full well that they faced a cunning and tenacious enemy that had just smashed the armies of Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Belgium and Britain in a very short space of time. Churchill authorised the use of women in war because most men of military age in the occupied countries would have been rounded up and used as forced labour to assist the German war machine. The work of a woman agent in France was extremely dangerous. Even just getting there had many perils of being either being shot down or sunk prior to the start of their mission or even captured as they attempted to land because of traitors informing the Germans. An agents mission in France would always be limited depending on their role. A wireless operator carrying their set to a different location every night to make calls to London requesting arms, ammunition, food and other supplies to be airdropped would be extremely hazardous as enemy patrols using radio interceptor vans would prowl around hoping to home in on clandestine signals. All the women inserted into France knew of the risks they faced and not one refused to go. Such was the importance of their job in raising a resistance army to keep the enemy in a state of high alert and nervousness, which would eventually lead to a breakdown in moral and their fighting effectiveness. The raising of this army came to the fore, before, during and after D-Day the 6th June 1944. As with any conflict there are inevitably casualties. The German Intelligence services were successful in breaking down resistance circuits and rounding up the operators. In the case of the women of SOE then some 13 were captured and all died in concentration camps. 12 were executed, as were indeed most of the men of the Special Air Service caught behind enemy lines. The French resistance forces lost thousands of men, women and children during the 4 year occupation, most of whom who were either shot out of hand, shipped out to concentration camps or into forced labour parties where they were worked to death. Vera played a major part in the Allied team that eventually secured peace in Europe, her agents helped “Raise the Spirit of Resistance” in a people who were once downtrodden by occupying forces. When the war ended Vera went back into Europe to find out what had happened to the men and women of SOE who did not return. She was fortunate to have been helped by friends in high places and by meeting up with the Secret Hunters of the SAS under the command of Major Bill Barkworth who were searching for their missing men. Vera accounted for her women and the SAS for their men. She said at the time “They risked there lives and fought for us, we owed it to their relatives to find out what had happened to them” Allied Special Forces Comment 20th June 2011 In response to the denouncement of Vera Atkins in Secrets and Spies - Radio Times article page 35 by Matthew Barrett and the programme shown on Secret War Monday 9pm 20th June 2011 by the Yesterday channel “The dead cannot answer back” But we will! Squadron Leader Vera Atkins 1908-2000 CBE, Legion d’honneur & Croix de Guerre Page 2 “We owed it to their relatives to find out what had happened to them…….” Vera did find out and then put their minds at rest after a long period of uncertainty as Vera was often in touch with the relatives reassuring them whilst keeping the secret work that the women were doing a very closely guarded secret. Vera Atkins died in 2000 taking the real truth to her Grave. It is hardly surprising therefore that Matthew Barrett of the Radio Times and the producers of the Yesterday programme, had the opportunity to rewrite her history by denouncing her and inferring that she was a double agent who knowing sent women to their deaths over 70 years ago because she was trying to conceal her real identity. He also infers that she ignored field agents who had sent messages to London without the correct security checks. The coding, which would have told their controllers that they were captured and operating under duress. In further speculation he suggests that she travelled into Nazi occupied Belgium to help release members of her family by bribing the German Intelligence Services! Squadron Leader Vera Atkins most certainly knew that she was sending agents to their deaths as would any general in command of his men. Her nationality was unimportant as she was acting in the defence of freedom for all humanity. Communication during war time will always be extremely hard, especially if you are running clandestine operations, where uncertainty is the name of the game. Agents would have been captured in any event due to the professional intelligence service run by the Germans. Possibly, maybe, might have, could have, most certainly knew, should have done this and should have done that and all the conjecture in the article and programme should be confined to the dustbin and the film removed from the channel. We therefore request a right of reply in the Radio Times to this denouncement of a women who is not able to answer the accusations of her conduct 70 years ago. Mike Colton Secretary Allied Special Forces Association A memorial seat will be dedicated to Vera Atkins on the 24th September 2011 in the Allied Special Forces Grove situated within the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.

Sadly the Radio Time article is yet another product of denouncing the past and seeking to gain publicity for their name through distortion and modern day re-writes of history. Vera was a lady who believed utterly in the truth no matter what! Ask yourself could you have done her job? Whatever modern day self-styled history writers may right. Vera Atkins cannot be hear to answer those accusation and believe if she were - those who wrote them would have never a confrontation with her! Vera Atkins was a brilliant intelligent lady. May she rest in peace.

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