The spy who we loved: Eileen Nearne was cherished says niece

Publié le par The Guardian Steven Morris

Relative of modest wartime heroine is traced and says her intrepid aunt wanted her ashes scattered at sea.

Eileen Nearne during the second world war, when she served as a spy

Eileen Nearne during the second world war, when she served as a spy

Concerns that the funeral of a British second world war spy who died alone at her seaside flat would pass unremarked vanished today when a relative came forward and former service personnel vowed to give her a proper send-off.

The story of 89-year-old Eileen Nearne's heroic exploits as a radio operator in occupied France emerged after Torbay council revealed it could not trace any of her relatives.

It seemed likely that Nearne would be buried in a modest grave by the council, with no one expected at the funeral service.

However, today a niece, who lives abroad, surfaced to pay tribute to "Aunt Eileen" and to reveal that Nearne wanted her ashes scattered at sea.

The niece, who has asked not to be named and was traced by genealogists at investigations firm Kin, said Nearne was cherished by her family.

She said she was distressed that Nearne had been portrayed as being "alone or unloved" adding: "Although I don't live in the UK, I was very close to Aunt Eileen and visited her often. I only saw her six months ago. She was always cherished by the family."

Details of Nearne's amazing personal history emerged after old French currency, correspondence written in French and several medals were discovered among her possessions at her Torquay flat.

Nearne was a member of the Special Operations Executive, the organisation set up by Winston Churchill to spy and carry out sabotage missions behind enemy lines.

A fluent French speaker, she worked as a radio operator under codenames such as "Rose" and "Mademoiselle du Tort". Nearne was caught three times and tortured once but always managed to talk herself out of captivity.

The niece added: "Aunt Eileen was extremely modest and highly courageous, having been tortured by the Gestapo during the war.

"She lived a very reserved and discreet lifestyle in later years and expressed her wish to be cremated and her ashes scattered at sea. I hope that I will be able to arrange this for her."

She added that her aunt was a devout Roman Catholic and involved in charitable causes including animal welfare.

Following the publicity that Nearne's story received, Torbay council said it had received offers from war veterans, historians and members of the public to pay for a funeral.

Local dignitaries and members of the Royal British Legion were planning to attend and it was thought the Foreign Office might also send a representative.

A spokesman said: "Torbay council has been contacted by various organisations which have offered to fund the funeral arrangements of Eileen Nearne."

John Pentreath of the Royal British Legion said: "We will certainly be there. We will do her proud. She sounds like a hugely remarkable lady and we are sorry she kept such a low profile, and that we only discovered the details after her death."

Nearne's neighbours said she never talked about the war. One, in a tribute on a website, said Nearne only ever talked about a beloved pet.

She wrote: "I lived at the same block of flats as this lady for two years. She was always sat outside on the bench reading the papers with her ginger cat.

"I sometimes sat and chatted with her. She never talked about herself, only about her cat who she took in after someone abandoned him. What a brave lady."

Another added: "Please if a lesson has to be learned from this – next time you see that old person walking down the street just remember they have a history, a story to tell and sometimes it is brilliant like this."

Publié dans Articles de Presse

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