Canadians Spies


    Battalion Colours

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    Canadians Spies

    Post by Battalion Colours on Fri Nov 27, 2009 9:17 am

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    Operations in France

    S.O.E. - Canadian Heroes in Action

    Of an estimated 1,800 S.O.E. agents sent into occupied France between 1941 and 1945, only 25 men or two percent of the total were Canadians. According to author Roy MacLaren, however:

    . . . the ratio of Canadians to other volunteers cannot be a measurement of the individual courage required to jump in the night into an alien land held by an enemy aided by informers. Of the twenty-five Canadians, seven were captured and executed, a higher proportion than for S.O.E. in France as a whole. But this statistic too is of little real moment; ultimately what matters is the resolve of those Canadians . . . 3

    Those who volunteered for work with S.O.E. in France were engaged in such diverse activities as sabotaging military installations, industrial demolition, ambushing and harassing troop movements by disrupting lines of communication and transportation. Some also served as arms instructors and radio operators.

    Gustave Daniel Alfred Biéler was the first Canadian to volunteer for this type of work with S.O.E. Originally from France, Biéler had emigrated to Montreal when he was 20 and became a Canadian citizen ten years later in 1934. In 1940, as an officer with the Régiment de Maisonneuve, he left his wife and two young children to sail for Scotland. He volunteered for S.O.E. service 1942. At 38, he was the oldest in his training class and was called Grand-dad by the others.

    After four months of training, Biéler parachuted into France southwest of Paris. His landing in France, however, did not go well. He severely injured his back in his fall and was forced to spend many months recuperating. As soon as he was able, he used his convalescence period to recruit agents for his sabotage network. The network was to receive arms dropped in by S.O.E. and use them to blow up trains and rail lines and disrupt German troop movements. He eventually oversaw the operation of 25 separate armed teams which systematically blew up rail lines and switching boxes and destroyed and derailed German troop trains in northern France.

    Biéler was a warm and affable man, highly regarded by his French co-workers. He became known for the extreme care he took to avoid hurting the local population in his operations and regretted the indiscriminate damage that the bombing often entailed. Unfortunately, Biéler stayed a little too long in France, long enough for the Germans to pick up his network's radio transmissions from St. Quentin. In January 1944, the Germans closed in on Biéler and his radio operator, a 32-year-old Anglo-Swiss woman, Yolande Beekman, and arrested them in a small café in northern France.

    Four months Biéler was tortured, but the gestapo learned nothing from him – except respect for his courage and dignity. When he walked to his death in September he was accompanied by an SS guard of honour. Instead of being gassed or hanged, he was shot – the only known case of an officer in these circumstances executed by a firing squad.4

    In the view of Gabriel Chartrand, another Canadian agent who worked with Biéler and managed to survive his own dangerous assignments, Biéler was "the great Canadian war hero."5

    Canadians were also key participants in another successful team, this time involved in more active underground warfare with S.O.E. The leader of this team was Jacques Taschereau, one of two Saskatchewan born volunteers to serve with S.O.E. Taschereau's family moved to Montreal where he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as an apprentice mechanic in 1927. He went on to serve with a militia unit and also flew as a bush pilot in Labrador and Quebec. In 1943 he was identified as a possible candidate for S.O.E. training. He went on to master all the tricks of the secret agent's trade and become a top-notch worker.

    Taschereau could raise his hands when confronted by an armed man and with a quick twist of his wrist, whip a knife from the back of his shirt collar and strike a target dead centre at a distance of 15 feet.6

    Taschereau was dropped into France in June 1944 in the company of Paul-Émile Thibeault. Thibeault, an ex-Golden Gloves boxer from Montreal, had been a sergeant with the Fusiliers Mont-Royal when he volunteered for S.O.E. service. His job on the team was to train Resistance workers in the use of arms and in making explosives.

    The other two members of this four-man team were the radio operator, James Larose, a U.S. naval lieutenant whose grandparents were French Canadians and Gustave Duclos, who reversed the usual procedure as he was a native of France pretending to be a Canadian to protect his family in France should he be captured by the Germans. The team members lived in the forest of Soulaines and concentrated mainly on blowing up trains.

    In moving under the noses of the Germans, Taschereau adopted a variety of disguises, including that of a funeral director and a carpenter. One night, disguised in the dark blue uniform of an engine driver of the French National Railway and accompanied by a picked group of saboteurs, Taschereau managed to enter a roundhouse and place bombs in twenty-two locomotives. Others of his sabotage units were engaged in blowing up rail lines, soon at a rate of almost one a day (having, wherever possible, forewarned the drivers to jump off their trains at a certain point).7

    When the Germans were finally pushed out of France, ten of the Canadians who survived their hazardous service in occupied France volunteered for S.O.E. operations in southeast Asia.

    Battalion Colours

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    Re: Canadians Spies

    Post by Battalion Colours on Fri Nov 27, 2009 9:31 am

    Some titles for those interested in reading further about the Canadian SOE experience:

    CAMP X

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    Re: Canadians Spies

    Post by Canuck on Mon Dec 21, 2009 10:07 am

    Very interesting.

    I always thought that because of their mastery of the French language, Quebeqois would have made excellent SOE agents. Surprised to see that there were only 25. hmmm

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    Re: Canadians Spies

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