Friday, September 24, 2010

80: The Self-Empowered Woman: Eileen Nearne

Dear Followers,

Not all remarkable women receive the standing ovations that they deserve. Today's blog is about a remarkable Self-Empowered Woman who embodied honor, bravery and fortitude, but died penniless and alone.

Eileen Nearne was 89 years old when she died in the English seaside village of Torquay. Because she had lived alone for many years, and had few friends, and there was no one to pay for funeral expenses after her body was found. Council officials, while in the process of looking through her things in an effort to find a relative, discovered that she wasn't just another little old lady who had lived--and died--alone.

The book and movie "Charlotte Gray" (the film starred Cate Blanchett) was rumored to be based on Nearne's life, and the London Times posthumously referred to her as a real-life Eleanor Rigby, the spinster who died alone in the Beatles' song.

In fact, when she was 24 years old Eileen Nearne had had a remarkable career as a young spy during World War II. She was dropped behind enemy lines near Chateauroux in occupied France, and was assigned to transmit wireless radio messages to London from Paris in order to help the Allies keep track of Nazi activities. During her five months in Paris she sent 105 messages--including one that told the British that the Germans had hidden 2,000 rockets in a stone quarry located north of Paris.

Three times during her career as a young spy, Nearne was captured by the Gestapo. Her two other female British contacts were executed, and the Nazis used that era's form of waterboarding--holding Nearne underwater in a bathtub full of near-freezing water--but she never admitted her involvement with the British. She was sent to Ravensbruck and Markleberg prison camps after being arrested by the SS (the Schutzstaffel), but eventually convinced the Nazis that "Mademoiselle du Tort" was simply a shop girl who knew nothing about military matters.

The woman whom the British War Office referred to as "Agent Rose" walked to Leipzig, where a local priest let her hide in the belfry of his church. When she saw white flags being flown on April 15, 1945 she went to greet the liberating Americans.

Nearne returned to the UK, where her mental state remained (understandably) precarious; her older sister took care of her until Jacqueline accepted a job offer at the United Nations. From that time on, Nearne was essentially a woman who retreated into herself.

When the War was over she admitted that what kept her going was "The will to live. Will power. That's the most important. You should not let yourself go. It seemed that the end would never come, but I have always believed in destiny and I had a hope."

In the picture at the top of the page, she is attending a memorial service at Ravensbruck where she had once been a prisoner. The medal on the left is the Croix de Guerre (from the French government) and the one on the right is the MBE (from the British government.

She received a pension from the British government until she travelled to Paris to stay with friends, at which time her stipend was terminated. The British population was justifiably irate that a true war hero had been forced to live in poverty. She was buried three weeks after her body was found, and her funeral expenses were ultimately paid by the Royal British Legion, whose motto is "Lest We Forget."

Looking forward to your comments...

1 comment:

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