Eliane Plewman World War II Heroine
Eliane Sophie Browne-Bartroli was born on 6th December 1917 in Marseilles, France. The daughter of a successful English manufacturer based in France, Eugene Henry Browne-Bartroli and his Spanish wife Elisa Francesca (née Bartroli), she was educated in England and in Spain at the British School in Madrid.
After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Eliane Plewman worked for the Press Section of the British Embassies in Madrid and Lisbon until 1941. In 1942 she moved to Britain to work for the Spanish Press section of the Ministry of Information. Then on 28th of July 1942 she married Thomas Langford Plewman of Lutterworth, Leicestershire, who had recently been commissioned as an officer in the Royal Artillery, their home was at 14 Queen’s Gate Terrace, Leicester.
In mid-February 1943 she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was accepted on 25th February that same year for training to serve as an ‘agent in the field’. Eliane Plewman signed the Official Secrets Act on 29th March 1943 and a signed a second time on 19th April 1943 (this time as second lieutenant Auxiliary Territorial Service) and commenced training at Wanborough Manor at the start of May 1943. She was commissioned as an Ensign in the Women's Transport Service, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) with service number F/23.
On the night of 13th -14th August 1943 Plewman parachuted into the Jura France from a special duties bomber of No. 161 Squadron RAF. Her cover name was Eliane Jacqueline Prunier, her code names were ‘Gaby’ and ‘Dean’, or sometimes ‘Madame Dupont’. She worked for Skepper as a courier in the area of Marseilles, providing the communications link between groups of saboteurs and intelligence gathering agents, the ‘MONK’ wireless operator Arthur Steele and other involved groups. Her activities supported successful sabotage operations.
Major General Colin Gubbins Head of SOE wrote as part of his recommendation for her gallantry award:
“She was dropped in the Jura and was separated from her circuit
for some time. Instead of remaining in hiding she showed outstanding initiative and made several contacts on her own which were later of great value to her circuit. For six months Plewman worked as a courier and her untiring devotion to duty and willingness to undergo any risk largely contributed to the successful establishment of her circuit. She travelled constantly maintaining liaison between the various groups, acting as guide to newly arriving agents and transporting wireless telegraphy equipment and compromising documents."
At this time her brother Albert John Browne-Bartroli was working as an agent for SOE in a different part of France. He survived the war and was awarded a Distinguished Service Order.
When the network was betrayed Charles Skepper was arrested on 23rd or 24th March 1944 at the apartment where he was staying with his friend Villevielle at 8. Rue Merentie, the French traitor (Bousquet) and the Gestapo made the place look as normal as possible hoping to catch his contacts as they came to call. On the following day Plewman and Arthur Steele (SOE agent) visited and were also arrested.
At the Baumettes prison and at Gestapo headquarters in 425 Rue Paradis Marseille the Gestapo tortured their three British captives by delivering very powerful electric shocks between the eyes and the results were so bad that when the British were seen by French prisoners they were almost unrecognizable. When Skepper was seen in the Gestapo offices in the custody of Gestapo Agent Dunker by Villevielle two weeks after their arrests he also reported being unable to recognize his friend.
The Gestapo interrogated Plewman without success for three weeks, and then transferred her to Fresnes Prison near Paris she remained there until 12th May 1944 when she joined a trans- port of seven British women captives including Diana Rowden, Noor Inayat Khan, Odette Sansom, Vera Leigh and Andree Bor- rel who travelled to the women's civil prison at Karlsruhe by train. Held with German female political prisoners they made a number of friendships with women who testified after the war.
One morning in July 1944 Vera Leigh, Diana Rowden, Andree Borrel and Sonia Olschanezky were transported from Karlsruhe prison to Natzweiler Concentration Camp where they were given lethal injections and their bodies cremated.
During the night of 11th September 1944 the Gestapo collected Eliane Plewman, Yolande Beekman and Madeleine Damerment from the prison and drove them to Karlsruhe railway station in time to catch the early train to Munich. From there they caught a local train to Dachau and late in the evening walked to Dachau concentration camp arriving at about midnight. Between 08.00 and 10.00 hours the next morning, 13th September 1944, Eliane Plewman and three other SOE agents (Yolande Beekman, Madeleine Damerment and Noor Inayat Khan) were taken from their cell and forced to kneel in pairs before being executed by a single shot to the head.
Eliane Plewman is remembered on the Brookwood Memorial in Surrey and the Memorial, in Valencay, France.
● King's Commendation for Brave Conduct
Awarded posthumously in the London Gazette on the 20th August 1946. “For services in France during the enemy occupation”.
● Croix de Guerre 1939 -1945 with bronze star (France) Awarded on the 16th January 1946.
Major General Colin Gubbins recommended Eliane Plewman for an MBE on the 13th July 1945 however he was over-ruled as the statutes of the award do not allow posthumous awards and she was awarded the King's Commendation for Brave Conduct instead.