RAF Mark's Castle & RAF Sennen, Land's End, Cornwall

Memorial at Zennor Church Yard, Near Penzance Cornwall. Just through the gate turn left and a few yards on the left.

 

Vera Aitkins OBE, Commandeur of the Légion d'Honneur, Croix de Guerre

Vera Aitkins served with SOE, in F section (France). She was officially the section's intelligence officer while serving as assistant to section head Maurice Buckmaster. She retired to Winchelsea, Sussex, and died in a nursing home in Hastings on 24 June 2000, aged 92. Her gravestone is in Zennor churchyard in Cornwall, with the inscription "Vera May Atkins, Légion d'honneur Croix de Guerre".

It is widely believed that Ian Flemming based "Miss Moneypenny" on Vera Aitkins.

 

 

The Guardian News & Obituaries

 

Vera Atkins

 

A power behind the SOE's operations in wartime France, she combined loyalty, brains and a seraphic smile

 

Vera Atkins, who has died aged 92, was a powerful figure in the Special Operations Excutive (SOE), set up in 1940 to "set Europe ablaze" in Winston Churchill's words by sabotage and subversion.

 

Atkins worked in Section F, its extremely important French section which sent 470 agents into France, of whom 39 were women. The head of Section F's London HQ was Major Maurice Buckmaster, but for many people Vera Atkins was the brains behind him.

 

Born Vera Maria Rosenberg in Bucharest, she moved to England with her parents in 1933, and later adopted her English mother's maiden name. She read modern languages at the Sorbonne and attended a finishing school in Lausanne. Joining SOE in February 1941, she was Buck master's assistant and soon became, as he said, indispensable to him. The eight-strong London HQ - which also included Lewis Gielgud, brother of the actor - was not in any conventional way hierarchical and there was no part of its work in which Atkins was not involved: interviewing recruits, organising and participating in their training, planning their reception in France. Often she would also help interpret seemingly indecipherable or badly scrambled messages, which had defeated all the efforts of official decoders.

 

The SOE agents came from all walks of life - they included a music hall drag artist, a racehorse trainer, a banker, a chef - but they all had to speak perfect French. Atkins built up detailed knowledge of conditions in occupied France - curfews, rationing, transport problems, police regulations - so that the agents were briefed on every detail of daily life. She helped provide each agent with a convincing cover story and furnished them with mementos, letters and photos to keep in their wallets, adding verismilitude to their new identities. She sent one to the dentist in order to have his teeth refilled in the French manner.

 

Atkins's remarkable efficiency and intelligence was accompanied by deep humanity and sense of responsibility to those whom she was sending to possible death. She was often businesslike and even severe - "immaculate, every hair in place" with a "detached and seraphic smile" as one agent put it. Sometimes she was mocking: one agent who admitted that he had fallen in love produced the riposte "oh the bloody English... We never have this sort of bother with the French...They copulate and that is that".

 

But there was no doubting her loyalty to, and fondness for, her agents. She saw them all off in person, and as she recalled years later: "the burden of stress was probably on the person who was seeing them off. The realisation that they were going out on a very dangerous mission, and this was probably the last glimpse they would have of the lovely countryside through which you were travelling with them, while you remained quite safely at the end. There was a considerable strain on one at this time. I think I must have been extraordinarily tough - I was extremely exhausted by it."

 

She also kept in contact with the agents' next of kin, and organised coded messages on the BBC so that they were kept informed about people they had left behind. This solicitude continued even after the war when Atkins, as a member of the British War Crimes Commision gathering evidence for the prosecution of war criminals, set about tracing the fate of the 118 agents who had never returned.

 

After a year visiting concentration camps and interrogating the German guards, she established how and when the missing agents had perished. (The only unresolved case concerned one agent who had been sent to Marseilles with three million francs in his pocket and was unable to resist the temptation of betting this sum at Monte Carlo: it was never established whether he had won and was secretly living on the proceeds or whether he had lost and committed suicide.)

 

Atkins displayed formidable skills as an interrogator. Hugo Bleicher, the Abwehr officer who had reaped havoc among the French Resistance, judged her interrogation the most skilful to which he had been subjected by his captors. In March 1946 she also interrogated Rudolf Hoess, the German Commandant of Auschwitz, who had been living disguised as a farmer. When asked whether it was true that he had caused the deaths of 1.5m Jews, he indignantly protested that this was wrong: the real figure was 2,345,000.

 

The French government appointed Atkins a commandant of the Legion of Honour in 1987 (this tardy recognition was because General de Gaulle had never approved of SOE having its own separate French section independent of his London based operations). Eventually she settled in Winchelsea, Sussex, and, although she never wrote her memoirs, her infallible memory was of priceless benefit to historians. It would be a pity if this remarkable figure was remembered only because of the myth that she had inspired.

 

Vera May Atkins (Vera Maria Rosenberg), intelligence agent, born June 16 1908; died June 24 2000

 

 

 

Contributed by

cornwallcsv

People in story:

Christine Gendall, Raymond Harvey

Location of story:

St Levan, Cornwall

Background to story:

Civilian

Article ID:

A5072627

Contributed on:

14 August 2005

An excerpt from the BBC's Peoples War

My father Raymond Harvey, was the local carpenter, cabinet maker, wheelwright undertaker and decorator in the parish of St. Levan. In 1940 he suffered a life threatening illness when he had peritonitis following ruptured appendix. This, along with being in a reserve occupation meant that he was not called up into the armed forces. He became a Sergeant in the Home Guard.

 

Local wheelwrights were exempt from call-up because their skills were required to make carts which were once again being used on the local farms as the recently introduced tractors and other machines were required for war service. Also fuel was in short supply.

 

My father also held the licence from the District Council to carry out war damage repairs in the West Penwith parishes.

 

I have copied from his account book of the time, some examples of the work (and prices) carried out which might be of interest.

 

1940 (Mr B Rowe, Trebehor Farm)

Sept 8th Making and fixing blackouts 2 men 8 ½ hrs 14s.2d

Blackout paper and cloth £1.2s.0d

 

Total £1.16s.2d

 

1940 May

Repairs to bomb damage (Mr J Williams, Roskestal Farm)

I man replacing pane of glass in window I hr. 1s.7.d

Glass 8 ½” x 7 ½” & putty 10d

Total 2s.5d

 

Re-glazing roof of porch & 2 panes inside 3 hrs 4s.9d

10 ft glass & putty 7s.8d

 

Total 12s.5d

 

1943 June

To making new cart on rubber wheels, Butt, shafts axle case & painting same.. £18.12s.6d

Blacksmiths account £9.2s.6d

 

Total £27.15s.0d

 

Estimate for new posts for evacuees (Sunday School Rooms)

 

2 Netball posts 9 foot high £1.3s.4d

2 iron bands 7s.0d

1lb nails (6d) 1 dozen screws (3d) 4 bolts (3d) 1s.0d

Labour for making and delivering same 10s.0d

Total £2.1s.4d

 

The cable and wireless station was located at Porthcurno, in St. Levan parish, & this was very important to the country for vital communications during the war. In 1940 it was decided to build an underground tunnel to house the vital equipment. Local mines were used to blast the tunnel with skilled gangers & foreman brought in from outside the area.

 

15,000 tons of rock was excavated & as an escape route 119 granite steps were cut. My father was employed to carry out some of the carpentry work. In all 225 men were labouring on the site & the work commenced with cleaning the area in June 1940 & completed in May 1941.

Soldiers, along with the Home Guard, were used to guard this important installation.

 

26th. 02. 2013 Another interesting visit with Cyril today. We spent a coulpe of hours chatting and refreshing our last meeting. Cyril also let me copy Photographs of Sennen Cove Hotel and Georgina's Cafe' which I have now published on the Sennen Cove then and now page. I covered the issue again with Cyril as to there being to Contro Rooms and Gantry's at Mark's Castle. He is in his own words "99% certain" there were two. Given the fact that I can see a large earth mound in one of the original photographs and find substantial re-enforced concrete sections insitu, I would also place his comment as 99% probable.

 

On the way home I called in at Trevedra and spoke to Mike Hicks to ask if he knew of an Anti Aircraft site situated on the farm. He certainly did and indicated that it was in 13 acres and the Gunners camouflaged their vehicles in the pine trees on the side of the A30. Another jig saw section droping into place. I had previously located Bosol Jack Farm Ack Ack site only half a mile from my own home.

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