On the night of September 24, 1942, Andrée Borrel (“Monique”) and Lise de Baissac (“Odile”) became the first female SOE agents to parachute into occupied France. As part of operation “Whitebeam”, their mission was to set up resistance networks in Paris and Northern France. Andrée jumped first; they both landed about 100 kilometers from Paris in a field near the village of Mer, and were picked up by members of a local Resistance.
“As it happens, we went twice. The pilot wouldn’t drop us the first time because the lights of the landing field were not quite accurate, so we had to come all the way back, which was very trying. You were squashed in that little place with a parachute on your back and your legs drawn up, and, of course, there was the danger too. … I don’t remember how long it was until the dispatcher opened the hole, which meant we were arriving. We crept nearer, getting our legs into position. We had drawn straws and luck gave Andrée the first jump. I went immediately after her. You had to jump very quickly, one right after the other, because the plane is going on and you might be dropped very far from each other.”—Lise de Baissac
After staying with the Resistance for a couple of days, Lise de Baissac moved to Poiters to start a new network “Artist” and Andrée Borrel went to Paris to join the “Prosper” network which was to be led by Francis Suttill. Suttill was impressed with Andrée and despite her age, in March 1943, she became second in command of the network. He told the Special Operations Executive in London that she “has a perfect understanding of security and an imperturbable calmness.” “Thank you very much for having sent her to me.”
In the spring of 1943, Lise Baissac became a liaison officer between the “Scientist”, “Prosper” and “Bricklayer” networks. When these networks were discovered by the Gestapo, Lise, through bravery and composure was able to escape unscathed.
On June 23, 1943, three key members of the Prosper Network, Andrée Borrel, Francis Suttill and Gilbert Norman, were arrested. Andrée was taken to Avenue Foch, the Gestapo headquarters in Paris. After being interrogated she was sent to Fresnes Prison. On July 6, 1944, Andrée along with Vera Leigh, Diana Rowden and Sonya Olschanezky, were taken to the Natzweiler concentration camp, injected with phenol and put in the crematorium furnace. She was 24.
Lise de Baissac returned to London in August 1943, trained new agents in parachuting and in April of 1944, she was given the code name “Marguerite”, and flown in by Lysander back to France to work as a courier in a branch of the “Pimento” network. When the D-Day action messages came through, she had to bicycle through streets full of Nazi troops to meet people whom were under Gestapo surveillance. Sleeping in ditches and sticking to small roads, it took her three days to return to Normandy.
After the war she worked for the BBC as a program assistant, announcer and translator. Following her marriage in 1950 to Gustave Villameur, an artist and interior decorator, she lived in Marseille and St Tropez.
Lise Marie Jeanette de Baissac Villameur died on March 24, 2004, just seven weeks shy or her 100th birthday.