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Working for the SOE on the home front

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posted on 2024-06-05, 19:27 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

"Women had to do something". Her husband was in Burma and in December 1941 Parliament passed a second National Service Act. It widened the scope of conscription by making all unmarried women and all childless widows between the ages of 20 and 30 liable to call-up. Rosabel joined the FANY Corps, which stood for First Aid Nursing and Yeomanry. This mainly trained drivers. Rosa couldn't drive so it was suggested that that she become a wireless operator and learn Morse code. This involved six months of intensive training at Grendon Underwood near Bicester. It was difficult, especially as they were expected to achieve "Reuters speed." On completion she was posted to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) set up by Churchill to support resistance efforts in occupied areas. Her country was France. She was expected simply to send and receive coded messages in Morse code to and from occupied France. The code, unique to the SOE and constantly changing, was devised by Leo Marks,"a very clever little man." She had no specific information of what the messages were about but had an idea. All messages were simply received from or sent to a different group at SOE to decipher. There were no relationships with the operatives in France. They all had fictitious names, many of which were revealed after the war together with their immensely brave exploits.

At the time, to Rosabel, it all seemed quite banal, even mundane. Indeed the work could be tedious but she enjoyed it. She is amused that Grendon Underwood is now a prison. Military life was a bit like boarding school. They weren't armed but taught to march and salute. She remembers marching down country roads and saluting the oncoming traffic. She did this for three years, starting at Baker Street and then at a number of rural locations around the country. She remembers the camaraderie of the team. "They were all such nice people, and got along very well." She was discharged in 1945 but stayed in touch with many of her comrades.

Life was quite different when she was demobbed. She had married in 1941 and her husband had been away all that time. She remembers him returning, "very thin and yellow. Like a total stranger." They returned to family life and their property in The Lee where she was warmly welcomed by her in-laws. She adored them, but there was no money, only austerity, rationing and labour shortages.


Person the story/items relate to

Rosabel Fremantle

Person who shared the story/items

Rosabel Fremantle

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

Her own experience.

Type of submission

Shared at The Lee Parish Hall, Buckinghamshire on 19 February 2023.

Record ID

90840 | LEE011