We had a busy end to last week with a client tasking in Westminster. We visited several locations, and had time to take photos of several of London’s iconic buildings and structures. It was early in Westminster, and the weather was sunny and cool with an amazing sky. Although quiet, it still wasn’t possible to get an image of an empty Westminster Bridge as was the case in the iconic scene in the film ’28 Days Later’ as mentioned in our ‘abandoned tube stations’ post last week.
Our client wanted to visit the Special-Operations-Executive (SOE) memorial due to the fact his Grand-Father had served in the unit during WWII and Remembrance Day is approaching. The memorial was unveiled in 2009. It is situated on the banks of the River Thames looking towards the Houses of Parliament off Lambeth Palace Rd (The Queen’s Walk). The memorial is a tribute to the men and women of the SOE, a secret organisation which operated behind enemy lines during WWII. Formed in 1940, the SOE agents demonstrated incredible courage and resourcefulness by both operating independently and with resistance forces. Agents operated in countries under the occupation of Nazi Germany, including France, Belgium, Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia and Italy. They also operated in the Far East. Agents were generally infiltrated by parachute; others were transported by submarine. Operating secretly behind enemy lines was extremely risky and if discovered, agents risked torture and execution. Of the 470 agents sent into France, 118 failed to return.
The memorial is rather unassuming and can easily be missed. The small plinth topped by the bronze bust of a defiant looking young woman named Violette Szabo (SOE Agent). Szabo grew up in London and is a great example of the type of individual who volunteered for the SOE. She had a French mother and an English father. Following the death of her French husband at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Her French background made her an ideal recruit for SOE’s French Section, and she was enlisted in the First-Aid-Nursing-Yeomanry (FANY) as cover. After training, Szabo was parachuted into occupied France. Her group was exposed by the Germans, and she was forced to return to Britain. During the D-Day landings she returned to France, parachuting into Limoges, 8th June 1944. She assisted the resistance in sabotaging German lines of communication. Szabo was captured on 10th June. Following her interrogation and torture she was sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp where she was executed in Feb 1945. In Dec 1947, Szabo’s 5-year-old daughter, Tania received the George Cross from King George VI on behalf of her mother. The SOE was abolished in 1946.
Once we’d completed the task we raised a glass to Violette and all who served in the SOE.