"Eleanor Rigby" death reveals British war heroine

Tue Sep 14, 2010 11:50am EDT
 
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By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A reclusive old lady who died alone in her flat in southwest England and had no one to pay for her funeral has posthumously shot to fame after it emerged she was an intrepid World War Two secret agent.

Eileen Nearne died aged 89 at her home in the town of Torquay on September 2. In the absence of any known relatives to make funeral arrangements, authorities entered the flat to take charge several days later, a local council spokeswoman said. A search for documents that might help locate relatives instead yielded a treasure trove of medals and papers that revealed the life of a woman once known as "Agent Rose," who defied the Nazis as a wireless operator in occupied France.

British media compared her death to that of the fictional Eleanor Rigby, who died alone in a Beatles song.

"She was to be buried, like Eleanor Rigby, along with her name," said the Times newspaper, which published on its front page a large black-and-white photo of a young Nearne in a beret.

"That may now change. It ought to, given Eileen Nearne's service to her country ... Her courage was capped only by her humility. Her life deserves to be sung about every bit as much as Eleanor Rigby's," said the Times in an editorial.

A member of the secretive Special Operations Executive (SOE), the 23-year-old Nearne took a night flight into France in March 1944 to work as an undercover agent helping coordinate a network of resistance fighters and spies.

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She was arrested by the Gestapo four months later but was able to hide her true identity thanks to her fluent French, acquired during childhood when her family lived in France.   Continued...