Signallers behind enemy lines 1939-1945
Everyone knows that Canadians fought during the Second World War across Europe and the Pacific against the Axis Powers. What many don't know or realize is that a small and unique group of Canadians, among them Signallers, served covertly behind enemy lines supporting the efforts of the underground resistance movements.
Canadians who became secret agents during the Second World War served with two British secret organizations: the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) and M.I.9 (Military Intelligence):
- S.O.E. was the larger of the two organizations, with almost 14,000 members at its peak of operation in 1944. In the words of Winston Churchill, its task was "to set Europe"—and later Asia—"ablaze." It was established in 1940 to fight the Facist invaders of Europe and Asia from within the occupied countries. Specially-trained S.O.E. agents were smuggled into these countries where they linked up with members of local Resistance movements, trained them, and organized them into a fighting force to harass and weaken the enemy before the Allied advance.
- M.I.9 was a smaller organization, concerned with Allied prisoners-of-war and Allied airmen shot down over enemy territory. Its function was to help them escape, by supplying agents and their helpers with money, radio communication and supplies.
Those recruited for these dangerous missions were primarily from three groups: French Canadians, immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe, and Chinese-Canadians. Further, due to the reliance on wireless communications to pass information to and from those working behind enemy lines, wireless operators from the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals were highly sought after.
The following Signals personnel are known to have worked behind enemy lines during the Second World War. Those identified with a (*) died as a result of their courageous service.
Beauregard, Alcide (*) Served with the S.O.E. Volunteered in mid-1943, he landed by Lysander in France 8 February 1944 and made his way to his assignment in Lyon. Captured 15 July 1944 after destroying his wireless set and codes. Interrogated in Lyon and later imprisoned at Fort Monluc, "his reason is believed to have been unhinged by the tortures to which he was subjected." He, along with 120 members of the resistance, were machine-gunned to death at Saint-Genie-Laval on 20 August, 1944.
Byerly, Robert Bennet (*) Served with S.O.E. An American who volunteered for the Canadian Army, he completed training in late 1943 and parachuted into France on the night of 7 February 1944. Captured immediately by the Gestapo who were waiting for him, he was interrogated and then moved to Paris for more severe interrogation. In July 1944 he was among a group of agents shipped by train to the Gross Rosen concentration camp in Poland where he was executed in September 1944.
Caza, Roger Marc Served with S.O.E. Completed training in January 1944 and parachuted into France 4 February 1944 to work as part of a circuit between Lyon and Toulouse France. Circuit disrupted communications and later working to delay the deployment of a crack SS armoured division to Normandy, the group ended up in bitter street fighting to help liberate Lyon prior to the arrival of the Allies. He returned to England in late September 1944.
Cheng, Roger K Served with S.O.E. in the Pacific. Recruited in Ottawa, he trained at a camp in the Okanagan with 12 other volunteers. Landed by Catalina on 6 August 1945 on a wide stretch of the Rejang River in Sarawak (northern Borneo). With the end of official hostilities, his team passed information and helped secure the transfer of prison camps holding about 2,500 detainees to the British forces. Started his return to Canada via Australia in September 1945.
Dehler, John Harold McDougal Served with S.O.E. Dropped on 7 August 1944 near the town of Mirepoix between Carcassone and the Spanish frontier. Arranged for supply drops in such quantities that the local resistance was able to take the offensive against German garrisons, killing or capturing two thousand. Returned from France in late 1944.
Durocher, Lucien Joseph Served with S.O.E. Recruited after serving in Sicily and Italy, he received training in Algeria. Dropped into southern France on 24 June 1944 as a Sergeant (was not commissioned as others were), he maintained "perfect radio contact with Algiers" and was "required to make long trips in civilian clothes carrying his radio set with him".
Fournier, Joseph Ernest Served with S.O.E. Recruited after serving in Sicily and Italy, he received training in Algeria. Parachuted into the foothills of the Alps near the village of Seyne on the night of 12 August 1944. Assigned to work at Haute-Savoie, a mountainous area south of Geneva bordering on Switzerland and Italy. Team co-ordinated attacks on retreating German columns including an attack on the German garrison at St. Michel-en-Maurienne on 4 September 1944.
LaBrosse, Raymond Service with M.I. 9. Recruited in the summer of 1942, he was dropped on 28 February 1943 near Paris after nine failed attempts. After some of the team were arrested, he escaped with 29 airmen through Toulouse, Andorra and Barcelona in August 1943, returning to England on 3 September. Volunteered to return to France, landing on 19 November 1943. Arranged for multiple collections of airmen from the beaches of Brittany and overland via the Pyrenees. Continued to help airmen return to England from Brittany until the Americans liberated the region in August 1944.
LaPointe, Ferdinand Joseph Served with S.O.E. Completed training in Algeria and was commissioned on 6 August 1944. Records are scarce but indicate he was dropped into southern France on 16 August 1944 and worked as a wireless operator with the underground until 28 September 1944.
Rodrigues, George (*) Served with M.I. 9. Volunteered in November 1942 and parachuted into northern France in August 1943. Was not commissioned as others were. Arrested 15 October 1943, tortured and sent to Buchenwald. Suffering from malnutrition and tuberculosis, he died in an Allied field hospital on 26 May 1945.
Sirois, Allyre Louis Joseph Served with S.O.E. Recruited in mid-1943, he parachuted into Southwest France near Auch on 2 March 1944 to work in and around the city of Angouleme. When his group was betrayed, he escaped to Cognac where he helped arrange many drops of arms for the Resistance. At one such drop he narrowly avoided capture and was forced to run and hide for his life. Assisted with the successful night attack to liberate Angouleme on 31 August 1944 and departed to London at the end of September.
Veilleux, Marcel Served with the S.O.E. Arriving in England at the end of 1943, he was working in the Jura Mountains near the Swiss border by August 1944. Arranged for supply and arms drops to the local marquis who were under attack by the Germans and kept different groups in radio contact. After the liberation of Lyon, he returned to London at the end of September 1944.
- Uncommon Courage, Minister of Supply and Services Canada 1985 Catalogue No. V32-41/1985 ISBN 0-662-54053-0
- MacLaren, Roy. Canadians Behind Enemy Lines 1939-1945. Vancouver and London: University of British Columbia Press. 1983. ISBN 0774811005.
- Mace, Martin; Grehan, John. Unearthing Churchill's secret army: the official list of SOE casualties and their stories. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. 2012. ISBN 1783376643.