The men who had been sent just before her were caught and executed

From A Mighty Girl:

At age 23, British secret agent Phyllis Latour Doyle parachuted into occupied Normandy in May 1944 to gather intelligence on Nazi positions in preparation for D-Day. As an agent for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), Doyle secretly relayed 135 coded messages to the British military before France’s liberation in August. For seventy years, her contributions to the war effort have been largely unheralded but, last week, the 93-year-old was finally given her due when she was awarded France’s highest honor, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

Doyle first joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force at age 20 in 1941 to work as a flight mechanic but SOE recruiters spotted her potential and offered her a job as a spy. A close family friend, her godmother’s father who she viewed as her grandfather, had been shot by the Nazis and she was eager to support the war effort however she could. Doyle immediately accepted the SOE’s offer and began an intensive training program. In addition to learning about encryption and surveillance, trainees also had to pass grueling physical tests. Doyle described how they were taught by a cat burglar who had been released from jail on “how to get in a high window, and down drain pipes, how to climb over roofs without being caught.”

She first deployed to Aquitaine in Vichy France where she worked for a year as a spy using the codename Genevieve. Her most dangerous mission, however, began on May 1, 1944 when she jumped out of a US Air Force bomber and landed behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Normandy. Using the codename Paulette, she posed as a poor teenage French girl. Doyle used a bicycle to tour the region, often under the guise of selling soap, and passed information to the British on Nazi positions using coded messages. In an interview with the New Zealand Army News magazine, she described how risky the mission, noting that “The men who had been sent just before me were caught and executed. I was told I was chosen for that area (of France) because I would arouse less suspicion.”

She also explained how she concealed her codes: “I always carried knitting because my codes were on a piece of silk — I had about 2000 I could use. When I used a code I would just pinprick it to indicate it had gone. I wrapped the piece of silk around a knitting needle and put it in a flat shoe lace which I used to tie my hair up.” Coded messages took a half an hour to send and the Germans could identify where a signal was sent from in an hour and a half so Doyle moved constantly to avoid detection. At times, she stayed with Allied sympathizers but often she had to sleep in forests and forage for food.

During her months in Normandy, Doyle sent 135 secret messages — invaluable information on Nazi troop positions that was used to help Allied forces prepare for the Normandy landing on D-Day and during the subsequent military campaign. Doyle continued her mission until France’s liberation in August 1944.

Following the war, Doyle eventually settled in New Zealand where she raised four children. It was only in the past 15 years that she told them about her career as a spy.


She kept that secret for 54 years??

If I’d done a tenth of that I’d have bragged about it so hard...



  1. Blanche Quizno says

    SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! How exciting! Truly cloak and dagger! But…how did she *send* the messages?? I didn’t get that part…

  2. RJW says


    “If I’d done a tenth of that I’d have bragged about it so hard..”

    Doyle would certainly have signed the Official Secrets Act, or some equivalent, if she had revealed her war-time exploits too soon after the war she probably could have ended up in jail. My impression is that the British tried to keep their secrets well past their use-by-date.

    My father worked in a cipher unit during WW2, I couldn’t get much information from him about his wartime experiences either, even 40 years after the war. Also that generation didn’t talk about themselves, it was bad form, and of course women were expected to be discreet.

    @1 Blanche Quizno,
    “how did she *send* the messages??”

    Presumably by short wave radio, and I assume, by using morse code, very laborious and very dangerous.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    @1 Blanche Quizno,
    “how did she *send* the messages??”
    Presumably by short wave radio, and I assume, by using morse code, very laborious and very dangerous.

    During and after WWII, the UK was one of the main developers and suppliers of spy radio sets and receivers. During WWII, a wide range of suitcase and special forces radios were developed and many of these were dropped over occupied Europe. Some of them were dropped together with a (secret) agent, but others were dropped-off at night for use by resistance groups.

    So she probably didn’t carry a radio around with her. She would gather the intelligence, code it, and then go to some place where she knew a transmitter was available to send the message.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    (Follow up to #3)
    Or, she may have been given a radio of her own, but she wouldn’t want it on her person. She would stash it someplace and only return to it when she needed to transmit.

  5. chigau (違う) says

    In the right hands, this would make a fabulous TV series.
    In the wrong hands (most of them), it would be a disaster.

  6. RJW says

    @4 moarscienceplz,

    “She would stash it someplace and only return to it when she needed to transmit.”

    Given the technology of the time I doubt that carrying a concealed radio would have been possible anyway, and stashing even multiple radios would have also been very risky since the Nazis would have been able to triangulate their positions sooner or later. She must have been supported by very reliable local network.

  7. stevewatson says

    @5: It’s been done (albeit someone else’s memoirs), about 25 years ago, by ITV: Wish Me Luck. Decent job, as I recall.

  8. says

    And of course Carve Her Name with Pride about Violette Szabo

    A film about WW2 made at a time when it was acknowledged that people, other than Americans, were involved in fighting fascism.

  9. Ysidro says


    Take a look at the link moarscienceplz gave at #3. There are several radios sets that, while not tiny, where most certainly portable. You wouldn’t want to just carry one around town, but they were small enough to stash.

    I remember seeing the MCR-1 or something like at at the WWII Museum in New Orleans. Two parts, each not much larger than a carton of cigarettes.

    Plus, with removable coil packs to swap frequencies, you could keep the enemy guessing. Still, you’d have to keep on the move. Which is exactly what Doyle said she did.

  10. RJW says

    @12 Ysidro,

    The MCR-1 is described as a ‘receiver’ while Doyle would have used a transmitter or perhaps a transmitter/receiver, quite different devices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *