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4 British WWII heroes you’ve never heard of

Military Records
31 December 2014

Anyone can spout off Winston Churchill and King George VI as prominent Englishmen in the Second World War, but they certainly weren’t the only Brits of wartime significance. Here’s a look at four, fascinating English men and women whose stories of heroism in WWII went relatively untold for decades.

Eileen Nearne

Topping the list is a story of an inspiring female, an unsung British heroine, Eileen Nearne. Eileen grew up in France but escaped to Britain during the Nazi invasion. Once safely in Britain, her French upbringing proved invaluable when she became a spy for the Special Operations Executive (known informally as “Churchill’s Secret Army”) and parachuted into France to go deep undercover—all before her twenty-third birthday.

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In France, she lived in constant peril, operating a secret radio line between London and Paris that arranged weapons drops to the French Resistance. Eventually captured by the Gestapo and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, Eileen was brutally tortured, but she never revealed her true identity or mission. She was then shuttled from death camp to death camp until she finally escaped (twice!) and reached safety. If that isn’t a Hollywood-worthy hero’s tale, I don’t know what is!

Sir Thomas Peirson Frank

When contemplating wartime heroes, we often think of brave soldiers fighting on the front lines, but Sir Thomas Peirson Frank was a British war-time hero of a different breed—he was a civil engineer. Although his unique mission was kept top secret at the time, his protective role to the people of London during the Battle of Britain was immense.

Peirson Frank was the mastermind behind a flood protection system to protect low-lying London from drowning during constant air raids. He identified at-risk areas and led a secret unit to implement and maintain secondary flood defenses. His efforts were kept secret so the enemy wouldn’t target vulnerable areas and to prevent general panic and alarm.

It was not until recent years that historians have discovered Peirson Frank’s contribution to London’s wartime defenses. In total, he is credited with saving London from flooding no less than 121 times. How’s that for putting some brains to good use?

Bill Tutte

Speaking of brainiacs serving king and country, Bill Tutte is another worthy British World War II hero of little celebrity. As a child, Bill was always a math whiz, earning himself a scholarship to the University of Cambridge. While at university, Bill was recruited along with some other classmates to work at Bletchley Park, decoding messages sent from Hitler’s high command by means of a machine called the Enigma.

However, Bletchley Park received word that Hitler was using a more complicated machine—the Lorenz system—to send some top-secret messages to his inner circle. After six months of work, Bill was able to successfully decode the Lorenz system (without ever seeing the actual machine), granting the Allies access to some of Hitler’s most important communications. His work was directly instrumental in the success of the D-Day invasions.

Major Douglas Lidderdale

Major Douglas Lidderdale is another unknown figure who can claim some part in D-Day’s success. Working under direct orders from Winston Churchill, he led one of the most dangerous, covert operations of World War II.

Three days after his wedding, Major Lidderdale and his team travelled to Tunisia with direct instructions from Churchill to bring back a Tiger tank. The Tiger tank was an infamous Nazi death machine, capable of destroying hundreds of Allied tanks in mere hours and inspiring fear in the Allied troops—a condition known as “Tigerphobia.”

Tiger tanks were virtually unstoppable and severely threatened troop morale. Churchill set about to solve this problem by sending Major Lidderdale to capture one; if Allied engineers could get their hands on a Tiger tank, they could learn how to destroy them. After several unsuccessful, life-threatening attempts to fulfill his mission, Lidderdale was finally able to capture and deliver a Tiger tank to Churchill. The new technology resulting from this important mission was used to develop war machines for D-Day.

—Connie Ray

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