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- Author: Juliette Pattinson x
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This chapter focuses on the process of testing, preparing and equipping recruits to pass as ordinary French civilians. It is concerned with the ways in which the SOE training can be regarded as a second level of vetting, following the recruits' 'conditional acceptance' by the recruiting officer at the initial interview which had assessed passing skills. The first training school that all except the early female recruits attended was held at Wanborough Manor, near Guildford. The preliminary course lasted three weeks and about a dozen students attended each session. While gender dynamics were pervasive throughout the training, not all aspects of the schooling were concerned with passing: the paramilitary, trade and parachute courses taught students practical skills. Trainees' schooling in Morse, weapons and explosives gave the instructors an indication of the roles for which each student would be suitable.
Films such as Odette and Carve Her Name with Pride portray agents who engaged in clandestine war against the Nazi war machine as unflappable and psychologically strong. And yet both written and oral testimonies of SOE agents suggest that these are inaccurate depictions and that most agents were constantly plagued by self-doubt. This chapter explores the different types of accounts in order to examine the phenomenon of passing undertaken by SOE agents in the context of wartime France. The representations of agents in written, oral and filmic accounts portraying passing and fear are diverse and complex. Reminiscences about anxiousness indicate that passing takes a dialogic form: agents were conscious that their performances required external ratification in order to be successful and thus there was an incorporation of the other as well as resistance as they tried to subvert the readings of others.
This chapter serves as an epilogue by recording the experiences of agents following demobilisation from the organisation. It examines how the SOE men and women, trained in unarmed combat and silent killing techniques, who had operated behind enemy lines under penalty of death and who may also have experienced captivity, fitted back into civilian life. Following the liberation of French towns in 1944, the work of the SOE agents was completed and those who had not been arrested began to return to Britain. Having begun by examining the recruits to the organisation, noting their upbringing and various occupations, the book has come full circle, recording what the survivors went on to do after the war. The ordinariness of their pre- and post-war roles is striking and reminds us that these were just normal people who were given an opportunity to participate in an extraordinary organisation which demanded great sacrifice.
This chapter discusses the publicity that the Special Operations Executive (SOE) has generated both in print and on screen, and situates the book within the broader debates around British women's wartime contributions and the emerging literature on masculinity. The clandestine activities of SOE operatives were being made public even before the Second World War had ended. The chapter also outlines the book's conceptual framework by explaining the theories of 'passing' and 'performance'. The book is about the extraordinary experiences of ordinary men and women like Wake who were recruited and trained by a British organisation and infiltrated into France to encourage sabotage and subversion during the Second World War. It is concerned with the ways in which the SOE veterans reconstruct their wartime experiences of recruitment, training, clandestine work and for some their captivity, focusing specifically upon the significance of gender and their attempts to pass as French civilians.
This chapter analyses veterans' retrospective reconstructions of their captivity, which offers an opportunity to explore the experiences of those whose passing was exposed. Analysis of the penalties levied on those who assume alternative personae and are found out is crucial in order to be able to fully understand the risks that were run by passing subjects. Of the 441 male agents sent to France, over one hundred were arrested and incarcerated in French prisons and seventeen of the thirty-nine women experienced long-term captivity. The explicitly gendered experiences of captivity for male and female political prisoners continued within concentration camps. Although agents' passing undoubtedly saved some from being identified as SOE agents and executed as 'foreign spies', their performances in themselves neither precipitated their release nor protected them from torture. Analysis of agents' accounts has also uncovered the gender dynamics that were in operation during interrogations and in concentration camps.
This chapter considers the initial interview as an opportunity for the recruiter to assess the potential 'passing' skills possessed by the candidate that will enable them to conceal their British paramilitary identities and be taken for French civilians. Many interviewees endowed their initial encounter with a particular significance, since the recruitment interview is regarded as their first experience of the SOE. The first recruiting officer for F Section was Lewis Gielgud, brother of the actor John Gielgud. The main priority in recruitment, according to Cowell, was to recruit people who could be assimilated into the culture of the country that they were infiltrating and who could 'pass as a native'. He isolated three qualifications which the recruiting officer was likely to look for in potential recruits: French nationality or alternatively an ability to speak French 'like a native', a typically 'French appearance' and various other 'necessary qualities'.
This chapter synthesises the understandings of both passing and gender which, hitherto, have mainly been discussed separately, in order to explore the ways in which many male agents chose to play upon dominant ideas of masculinity in their enactments. The examination of agents' accounts has facilitated an analysis of their different constructions of wartime masculinities. While a tone of disrespect can be detected in 'heroic' narratives, disapproval can be perceived in 'stoic' accounts. The strategies pursued by male agents might be accounted for by considering their age and pre-SOE lifestyles. The analysis of male agents' retrospective constructions of their lifestyles in wartime France and of the ways in which they chose to pass emphasises their investments in particular kinds of gendered performances. They were not merely imitating French civilians but were performing French civilian masculinities, choosing from a repertoire of masculinities those which they considered appropriate to their cover stories.
Male agents made investments in particular kinds of gendered performances by emulating civilian men in order to facilitate their successful passing as ordinary French nationals. Like their male counterparts, female agents also recall the importance of behaviour appropriate for the region in which they were operating. They undertook specifically feminine performances by mobilising conventionally attractive appearance and appropriate conduct which usually made it possible for them to undertake the hazardous role of couriering. Female agents were able to make use of the gender tags of childcare and shopping to cover their clandestine activities. Female agents also found that crucial to their heterosexual performances, which hinged upon the effect of the physical appearance of female agents on German soldiers, were both flirtation and physical frailty. Different circumstances called for performances of different types of femininity.
This book focuses on working class civilian men who as a result of working in reserved occupations were exempt from enlistment in the armed forces. It utilises fifty six newly conducted oral history interviews as well as autobiographies, visual sources and existing archived interviews to explore how they articulated their wartime experiences and how they positioned themselves in relation to the hegemonic discourse of military masculinity. It considers the range of masculine identities circulating amongst civilian male workers during the war and investigates the extent to which reserved workers draw upon these identities when recalling their wartime selves. It argues that the Second World War was capable of challenging civilian masculinities, positioning the civilian man below that of the ‘soldier hero’ while, simultaneously, reinforcing them by bolstering the capacity to provide and to earn high wages, both of which were key markers of masculinity.
The chapter examines the consensus among historians that civilian men were compared unfavourably to the disciplined soldier, were emasculated by women’s new wartime roles and were rendered invisible in wartime representations. Having established the high status enjoyed by the ‘soldier hero’ in wartime discourse and by contrast, the fragile position of the male civilian, with reference to Connell’s concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’, the chapter asserts that the construction of masculinity in fact remained open to contestation. Sources where the reserved man are depicted in a positive way are analysed. The chapter examines the rich array of source material that historians can, but have so far failed to, draw upon, including archival documents, visual sources and our newly conducted oral history interviews.