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When Eileen Nearne died aged eighty-nine, her neighbours in Torquay knew only that she was a very private and reserved person, who loved animals. Such was her desire to distance herself from close relationships locally that council workers needed to search her flat to try to identify her next of kin.
What they found was a collection of medals and documents relating to Eileen's wartime undercover work in occupied France.
'Rose' - A Life in the Shadows tells the extraordinary story of that war service and what led an ordinary English woman to risk her life for her country.
Born in 1921 in London, Eileen was the youngest of four children born to a French-Spanish mother and an English father. The family moved several times during her childhood and when war began in 1940 they were living in Nice in the south of France. Keen to serve their country, Eileen and her older sister Jacqueline made the difficult journey home, through Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar. Once in the UK, because of her fluent French Eileen was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Her determination showed itself when she passed the rigorous training course where she learned among other things weapons handling, map reading and field craft. In March 1944 she was flown in the dead of night to France where she was to work as a radio operator.
This was Eileen's five months of 'living in the shadows', using a number of aliases, always looking over her shoulder and living on her wits. In July 1944 her transmitter was detected and she was arrested. For Eileen this led to torture and nine months' forced labour in Germany, in exceptionally harsh conditions and on a woefully inadequate diet. Again Eileen's courage, determination and ingenuity saw her through and in April 1945 she escaped from a work gang.
Together with two French women who had also escaped she made her way to Leipzig where the three were hidden by a priest. Eileen's nightmare continued when the liberating US army did not believe she was English and it was not until confirmation of her identity was received from London that she was finally free.
Perhaps it is not surprising that such a tough set of experiences when she was still only in her twenties had a serious psychological effect on Eileen. She trained and worked as a nurse but found it difficult to settle after the war.
Augustine Nash has pieced Eileen's story together from existing documents, interviews with relatives and acquaintances and extensive personal research. 'Rose' - A Life in the Shadows is the sometimes dramatic story of a courageous and modest woman - Eileen Nearne, MBE, code name Rose.