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Peter Churchill Edit Profile

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Peter Churchill was a British Special Operations Executive (SOE) officer in France during the Second World War. His wartime operations, which resulted in his capture and imprisonment in German concentration camps, and his subsequent marriage to fellow SOE officer, Odette Samson, received considerable attention after the war and after, including a 1950 film.

Background

Peter Churchill was born on January 14, 1909 Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Education

He was educated at Malvern School from 1923–27, then spent 18 months at Chillon Castle, then went on to Geneva University. From 1929–32, he read Modern Languages at Caius College, University of Cambridge.

Career

Lt Churchill’s first mission was in January 1942. With money and instructions for the maquis he landed from a submarine in the south of France and set up a program for delivering other agents. Peter also had the mission of finding and reporting on a certain “Carte,” who proved to be Andre Girard, a painter at Antibes who claimed to control a huge secret army. Promoted in May 1942 for his achievements, Capt Churchill continued to develop methods of delivering SOE agents. The night of 27-28 Aug 1942 he dropped near Montpellier (SW France) to establish his “Spindle” network, using the alias “Raoul.” But he proved to be almost entirely ineffective (M. R. D. Foot in DNB). Carte had grossly exaggerated the strength of his maquis, and its few actual members faded away when the Germans moved into the south of France after the 8 November 1942 Allied landings in North Africa. Raoul’s main achievement was to help direct aerial delivery of arms and ammunition for the maquis. The materiel was dropped on the remote Plateau of Glares (near Annecy) for distribution throughout the High Savoy. Raoul also continued to help bring in agents from the sea. One was Odette Sansom, who agreed to abandon her assigned mission in Auxerre and be a standby radio operator in the Spindle net. This was soon infiltrated by the Abwehr, so Churchill moved a small command group to St Jorioz, near Annecy, and left by light aircraft for London on the night of 23-24 March 1943 for further instructions. During his absence Odette was approached by an amiable German who said he was an Abwehr colonel who wanted to defect. When she reported this to London, SOE smelled a rat and told Raoul to break contact with Odette. But she was waiting w'hen he parachuted back on the night of 14-15 April 1943. The next night they both were arrested by the friendly “colonel,” w'lio was Sgt Hugo Bleichf.r.

But the crafty Bleicher was outsmarted by his prisoners. They stuck to a cover story that they were married, that Peter had come only for a conjugal visit, that he had nothing to do with Odette’s secret operations, and that he was Winston Churchill's nephew. None of this was true, but the Germans never knew they had caught the long-sought Raoul! Both agents survived torture and cruel imprisonment. Peter was appointed to the DSO (1946) and Odette was awarded the George Cross. They were married in 1947 but divorced in 1955. Peter promptly remarried, lived as a writer and real estate agent near Cannes, where he died 1 May 1972 of cancer. His lighthearted memoirs are Of their Own Choice (1952), Duel of Wits (1953), The Spirit of the Cage (1954), and By Moonlight (1958). This last book is a novel about the Glares Maquis (herein).

Connections

spouse:
Odette Samson