New research shines a fascinating light on the long-hidden history of a Second World War School For Secret Agents at Roughwood Park, Chalfont St Giles.

Undercover agents recruited by the secretive Special Operations Executive learned in this remote Chilterns mansion and grounds how to fight and survive deep behind enemy lines in France. Many were captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo. Their bravery and expertise played a crucial role in the battle to liberate France from Nazi occupation.

Drawing on the agents’ personal files held in the National Archives, Nick Gammage here reveals some of Roughwood Park’s long-held secrets.

Introduction

The vital role played by Roughwood Park at Chalfont St Giles in Winston Churchill’s “secret war” against Nazi Germany has long been shrouded in mystery.

Key elements  of what exactly happened at this secluded Chilterns country house during the Second World War have remained unsolved: who owned Roughwood Park? how did it become a school for secret agents? which agents were there? which elements of clandestine warfare were taught there? who was in charge?

But now, drawing on the recently opened personal files of Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents and on local estate records, it has been possible to piece together key elements in Roughwood Park’s remarkable story.

Churchill created the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in June 1940 as a highly secret unit to support  resistance groups across Nazi-occupied Europe, with the remit to “set Europe ablaze”.

For Churchill, the greatest  imperative was to disrupt Nazi operations in France, the most likely launch pad for an invasion of Britain. In 1941 Roughwood Park was requisitioned by the War Department under special wartime powers and transformed into an SOE “F” section school for agents who would be operating undercover behind enemy lines in France.

Roughwood Park was not the only country home near Little Chalfont and Chalfont St Giles to play an important role in the intelligence war: Pollards Park, Stivers and Pollards Wood Grange off Nightingales Lane were taken over by SOE for training Polish agents. And the secret listeners at Latimer House used revolutionary bugging techniques and ingenious psychological tactics to extract critical intelligence from high-ranking German Prisoners of War held there.

But SOE is best known for the clandestine war it waged in France and new evidence shows that some of its most famous agents in France were trained at Roughwood Park.

Britain did not have a ready-made force of undercover agents, so there was a desperate need to recruit them and train them up fast. Many “F” Section agents were civilians before the war with no fighting experience, recruited for their knowledge of France, their fluency in French and sometimes simply for their skill as a wireless operator.

Training in how to wage guerrilla warfare and live undercover they received at places like Roughwood before flying off was critical to their survival.

For some agents, the end came within minutes of landing in France when the Gestapo (tipped off by informers or after cracking SOE’s wireless codes) were ready in wait at the dropping zones. **

For those who did survive, their lives were changed forever by the strain of operating undercover for extended periods, the atrocities they witnessed and the constant fear of capture which they knew meant almost certain execution.

Roughwood Park’s SOE role was kept secret throughout the war. SOE was called the “Inter-Service Research Bureau” to hide its real purpose. And in official papers Roughwood Park is only ever referred to by its codename: Training School “STS 42”.

The secrecy which surrounds Roughwood Park is mirrored by the secrecy of some of the central characters in its story.

Roughwood’s owner in 1939, “Britain’s richest man” Sir John Reeves Ellerman, was obsessively private, rarely seen in public and had a deep hatred of the press. He went to great lengths to keep his ownership of Roughwood a secret.

Roughwood’s most outstanding commandant, Major Vernon Blomfield, went to France as an agent shortly after D-Day and was highly decorated after months of intense fighting. He emigrated to the British Consulate in Persia at the end of hostilities and disappeared completely from the radar.

** This scenario is portrayed vividly in the 2019 film “A Call To Spy” which tells the story of SOE agents Noor Inayat Khan and Virginia Hall.

First Owners of Roughwood Park

Wealthy London solicitor George James Robinson (1830-1907)bought the ancient Roughwood Estate in 1881 when it was primarily agricultural land. Robinson, then a tenant at Chorley Wood House, built a country mansion for his family on the estate. The 1891 Census shows him living at “Roughwood Mansion” with his wife Annie and their daughter Amy.

1891 Census Roughwood Mansion
The 1891 Census Return for Roughwood Park. It was then called Roughwood Mansion
Tryphon Emmanuel Augustus Agelasto
Tryphon Emmanuel Augustus Agelasto

Robinson then built a second mansion on the estate, Roughwood Croft. He moved there with his family and put Roughwood Park and its eighty acres on the market. Unable to find a buyer, he let it in 1896 to retired Liverpool merchant and ship owner Robert Brocklehurst, whose family had made their fortune in Brazil.

Brocklehurst, a widower, lived as a tenant at Roughwood Park with his three adult daughters until 1916 when he was 89.

When George Robinson died in 1907, his trustees spent ten years trying to sell portions of the estate. Roughwood Park was finally sold in 1916 to Anglo-Greek East India merchant Tryphon Agelasto (1862-1947), a member of the Baltic Exchange.

Agelasto lived at Roughwood Park with his wife Christine until her death there in November 1935, when he put the house up for sale. An advertisement in The Times in Spring 1936 describes the mansion as an “Important Residential Property of over eighty-six acres” set in “indescribably lovely grounds with wide spreading lawns.”

In her memoir of living on the Roughwood Estate, Ann Oliver Kendal of Roughwood Barns recalls the rumours swirling about at the time about who was interested in buying Roughwood: Edward VIII for Mrs Simpson; someone planning to use its extensive grounds for training lions.

Roughwood Park For Sale 1913
Roughwood Park For Sale 1913

The second of these was not so far-fetched: the great circus impresario Bertram Mills who lived with his family at nearby Pollards Wood House had died in 1938. His widow Ethel and sons Bertram Jr and Cyril may well have been looking for a new home.

In the event Roughwood Park was bought by shipping magnate Sir John Reeves Ellerman (1909-1973). There is  evidence in James Taylor’s biography Ellermans: A Wealth Of Shipping that Sir John  and his wife were in residence there in 1938.

 Sir John Ellerman: “Britain’s Richest Man”

John Ellerman
Sir John Ellerman, Roughwood Park’s secretive owner during the Second World War

Sir John Ellerman (1909-1973) was the son of the first Sir John Reeves Ellerman (1862-1933) who, from humble beginnings, built a vast business empire based on shipping, a West End property portfolio, and media holdings.

When the first Sir John died  he left a vast estate of £37 million (around £8 billion at 2022 prices), estimated to be around 30% of the total amount left by the 400,000 people who died in Britain that year. His son inherited around £18 million, after death duties.

According to press reports, the first Sir John kept an iron grip on all aspects of his business and family life. He had forbidden his son from marrying his long-time love the Canadian-born artist and musician Esther de Sola, sister of a fellow law student, who shared his love of amateur dramatics. The couple married just four weeks after his father’s death.

Sir John made sure that anyone trying in 1938 to discover the new owner of Roughwood Park would have found it almost impossible. Like his father before him, he was obsessively private and created elaborate smokescreens to hide his tracks.

The 1939 Electoral Register for Chalfont St Giles shows fifteen people living at Roughwood Park but they were all domestic staff. The lines in the register for “Head” and “Wife of Head” are obliterated by thick black lines, with “This record is officially closed” printed over them.

Horace Fountain 1939
The 1939 Electoral Roll return for Roughwood Park with the owner’s name blanked out

Kelly’s Directory for Buckinghamshire for 1939 shows the owner of Roughwood not as Sir John Ellerman, but “Harold Davenport Price”. This was in fact Hubert Davenport Price, Sir John Ellerman’s trusted solicitor and close business associate who Sir John had appointed chairman and director of around 20 of his companies. Price’s family home was in Worcestershire not Buckinghamshire. Even official Government papers maintained the pretence.

Roughwood Compensation Davenport Price
Government record of compensation paid for SOE use of Roughwood Park. The owner is shown as ‘H Davenport Price’

The Government Register showing compensation paid to country house owners whose homes were taken over during the war also shows the owner of Roughwood Park as “H. Davenport Price” of 105 Hallam Street, London. This property was, in fact, owned by Sir John Ellerman: prime West End real estate off Great Portland Street which Sir John’s father had bought from the de Walden estate in the 1920s.

The Compensation Register shows Roughwood Park requisitioned by “The Bureau” – a reminder that SOE was called the “Inter-Service Research Bureau” to hide its real purpose.

Sir John and Lady Ellerman moved between a number of prestigious homes including 20 Kensington Palace Gardens – now owned by the Sultan of Brunei – a fine Eastbourne mansion Seven Gables and a suite at the Dorchester Hotel.

Roughwood Park was described by his friends as “the most secret of his properties.” The Press reported that Sir John permitted only two people at any one time in his organisation to know where he lived. Even his widowed mother, the Dowager Lady Ellerman, was kept in the dark. One explanation for this elaborate subterfuge may have been that, at a time of fervent anti-German sentiment, Sir John might not have wanted it known by neighbours that someone of second-generation German descent with an overtly German name was living nearby.

Roughwood Park in the Second World War

There is no conclusive evidence to explain how and why, in 1941, the Government requisitioned Roughwood Park from one of Britain’s most powerful – and richest – men.

The War Department was under no legal obligation to alert owners that they were planning to take over their home and it was Government policy to give them as little advance warning as possible.

Some patriotic owners, including Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, actively offered their homes and grounds for the war effort and Sir John Ellerman (a fervently anti-Nazi patriot) may well have been in this group.

Sir John was at heart an academic and philanthropist, not a business man. He was a world authority on rodents and his global philanthropy included support over many years for severely disabled young people in South Africa where the Ellermans lived for part of the year after the War.

Two years earlier, with war looming, Sir John had offered the Government his extensive shipping fleet under a “British Trust” arrangement. This came to nothing (although he did fund a new torpedo boat) but it seems highly implausible that, after such a generous offer, the War Department would seize Roughwood Park without Sir John’s prior knowledge and support.

By 1941 Roughwood Park was in War Department hands and had been designated a Special Operations Executive Training School with the codename STS 42.

SOE training establishments were known as “schools” and the agents “students” or “Bods.” “F Section,” headed by Colonel Maurice Buckmaster, recruited and trained agents destined to be dropped – either by parachute or Lysander aircraft – into occupied France.

Major Vernon Blomfield MBE: Roughwood Park Commandant-Turned-War-Hero

Roughwood Park was at first simply a “Holding School” where trained agents waited, sometimes for weeks, for a full moon and clear skies to be dropped into France by night.

The first commandant, temporarily at Roughwood for just a few weeks early in 1941, was Irish Guards Officer Lt. Col. Tristram Grayson. He was soon replaced by 52-year-old retired soldier Major John Cecil Petherick (1889-1981).

Petherick, a decorated First World War veteran, had retired to his country estate after military service and had been serving with the Home Guard.

At first, SOE Command believed that battle hardened retired soldiers like Petherick, steeped in military routine, would make ideal SOE training school commandants. But they quickly realised this was a mistake: the men were not up to the high intensity task of training secret agents.

In Major Petherick’s performance report in May 1943, just before he was transferred out, Colonel Frank Spooner, the highly respected Head of SOE Training Schools, described him as a “country gentleman” completely unsuitable as an SOE commandant.

“A retired regular officer (3rd Hussars) with no outstanding qualities. Practical exercises not good, partly because he gets easily tired, partly on account of his inability to use his imagination.”

British and French Commanders also realised that these fallow periods waiting at holding schools for the right flying conditions were at best a waste of valuable training time and at worst led to agents becoming bored and losing crucial battle edge.

And so, from 1942, specialist trainers were recruited to Roughwood Park to design and deliver bespoke top-up training and outdoor exercises (known as “schemes”) to keep agents sharp for the special conditions in France.

Vernon Blomfield
Major Vernon Blomfield

In the summer of 1943, after glowing reports, Roughwood Park’s star trainer former public school modern languages teacher Captain Vernon Blomfield (1905-1964) was promoted to Major and replaced Petherick. He was given a new title: “Commandant and Chief Instructor at Roughwood Park.”

Blomfield, 38, was an unlikely military commander. Before joining up he had no previous military experience. Educated at the Canadian public school where his English father taught, he returned to England in 1923 to study Modern Languages at the University of London, which included a period living and studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In 1930 he returned to Canada to teach French at his old school, St Andrews College Toronto. He then again returned to England with a new wife and from 1932 had been teaching Modern Languages at King Edward VI Grammar School, Stourbridge.

Blomfield joined up in 1940 with the Royal Suffolk Regiment. He was recruited by SOE in 1942 for his fluency in French and his experience of France. At Roughwood he quickly proved himself an expert instructor in all aspects of SOE training. His superiors described him as “an outstanding officer.” Critically, for the Roughwood Park story, he soon came to the notice of the Free French leadership in England.

Blomfield MBE
SOE’s request that Major Vernon Blomfield be awarded the MBE. Signed by Lt. Col. Philip Rea, later Liberal Leader of the House of Lords

In a note in his personal file dated 1943, Colonel Spooner in recommending that Blomfield should replace Petherick as Commandant writes that Blomfield had been “specially asked for by the French as Commandant for the Training of a New Class of Agent.”

Blomfield was tasked with devising and delivering a training programme at Roughwood Park designed for agents whose job was to support the French Resistance and The Maquis underground fighters in attacking and disrupting the Nazi war machine.

 Sue Ryder and the SOE at Chalfont St Giles

It is not known exactly what aspects of guerrilla warfare secret agents were taught at Roughwood Park. But we can get a good idea from Sue Ryder, founder of the Sue Ryder Foundation, who as an SOE driver spent time at neighbouring Pollards Park, the training and holding school for Polish agents.

In her autobiography Child of Our Love, Sue Ryder (1924-2000) describes spending time at various SOE schools in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire with Polish and Czech agents. This included ten memorable days sharing a room with the great Polish Agent General Elzbieta Zawacka (codename “Zo”) at Pollards Park “deep in the woods off Nightingale’s Lane near Chalfont St Giles.”

The training regime was based on the one used for agents going to France, designed to stretch secret agents “to the utmost.” Agents, she says, were:

“probed for any physical or psychological weakness which might cost them their lives. They were trained to use small arms of every kind, to manufacture homemade bombs, do jujitsu, survive in open country on synthetic foods, learn topography and map reading and understand concealment devices. A very exacting physical fitness course completed the curriculum.”

She adds:

“Deep friendships were made, transient but precious, for we were all “ships passing” and there was the unspoken knowledge between us that we would most probably not see each other again…. In some ways it was an unreal world; in others it enforced an inescapable reality.”  

Some agents, like the remarkable Jacqueline Nearne, spent time at Roughwood Park after returning physically and mentally exhausted from long missions in France as part of their recuperation and de-briefing.

Possibly reflecting Roughwood Park’s enhanced training role and need for extra land, the War Department in 1943 requisitioned a further four acres at Roughwood Park and eleven acres of neighbouring Philipshill Wood from Squadron Leader Herbert Martin Parsons of Churston, Chalfont Lane.

When Major Vernon Blomfield took command of STS 42 it was re-classified as an SOE “Operational Holding School” to reflect its more dynamic role.

New evidence has revealed that Indian Princess Noor Inayat Khan, one of SOE’s most famous agents, spent time at Roughwood Park before flying to France, at around the same time that Blomfield became commandant.

On the night of 16th June 1943, after final training, the sensitive but determined 29-year-old Noor became the first SOE woman wireless operator to be flown into France behind enemy lines. She was to work with the “Prosper” network which, it soon became clear, had been infiltrated by the Nazis and fatally compromised. She was arrested by the Gestapo in October 1943 and executed at Dachau concentration camp on 13th September 1944 along with three other SOE women agents.

Early in 1944, and with preparations underway for the Allied Invasion of Europe, Vernon Blomfield unexpectedly lodged a formal request to be transferred to the “active agents list.” He no longer wanted simply to train agents – he wanted to be with them in France doing their job.

His request was agreed, with his superiors describing him as “an outstanding officer.” In May 1944, just before D-Day, he completed agent training in paramilitary warfare, secret codes, personal security, self-defence, physical fitness, and parachuting.

Blomfield’s mission, codenamed Operation Bergamote, was to recruit train and organise the French Resistance and Maquis for a paramilitary campaign in the Creuse area of France immediately after D-Day.

As Blomfield prepared to leave for France, a new Commandant took over at Roughwood Park. Edward Ussher Elliott-Binns had been an instructor at Roughwood since December 1943 and had quickly made an impression. He was promoted to temporary Captain in March 1944.

In June 1944, he was given temporary promotion to Major (the Commandant Rank) and made Acting Commandant of Roughwood Park while Blomfield was away on Active Service fighting with the French Resistance and The Maquis.

Operating under the codename “Density,” Blomfield parachuted into France on 1st July 1944 and distinguished himself during three months of intense fighting, receiving bravery awards from the British, French and American High Commands.

Operation Bergamote completed its objective and on 21 September 1944 Blomfield was flown back to England and to command of Roughwood Park.

Captain John Grayburn of Roughwood Farm – a VC at Arnhem

Just one week later, paratrooper Captain John (“Jack”) Grayburn (1918-1944) of Roughwood Farm on the Roughwood Estate won a lasting place in military history for outstanding bravery shown during one of the most infamous battles of the Second World War, Arnhem.

John Grayburn
Captain John Grayburn V.C. of Roughwood Farm
Captain John Grayburn’s grave, Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery

Son of Lionel Grayburn of Roughwood Farm, Jack had before the war worked as a trainee banker, destined to join his uncle Sir Vandaleur Grayburn at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in Hong Kong. He was a distinguished rugby player for Amersham and Chiltern Rugby Club, playing for them up to the outbreak of War.

At the start of the war, he was commissioned into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry but later transferred to the Parachute Regiment. And in the push to liberate Europe after D-Day, he was serving with 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment as commander of ‘A’ Platoon. He had married Marcelle Chambers in 1942 and the couple had a young son.

On 20th September 1944 after many days of heroic resistance he was killed, at the age of twenty-six, defending his troops’ position on Arnhem bridge. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions – one of five VCs awarded at Arnhem.

 Roughwood Park after Second World War

As operations wound down in France, “STS 42” Roughwood Park was de-commissioned by SOE and Major Vernon Blomfield was signed off as Commandant in July 1945.

Little is known about what happened to Major Blomfield after leaving Roughwood Park. He resigned his teaching post at King Edward VI School Stourbridge in September 1945 to take up a new role at the British Consulate in Tehran, Persia as “Education Attaché”. His wife Joan, a music teacher, had also found a position in Teheran. Five years later he is at the British Consulate in Tehran not as “Education Attaché,” but “Military Attaché” and is now married to a Persian wife, Cobra. Nothing is known about his life in Tehran other than he died in 1964 aged fifty-nine and is buried in Tehran’s Protestant Cemetery.

Although training at Roughwood Park was for covert warfare, the Ellermans and their staff were not spared the horrors of conventional war. Groundsman and odd job man Richard Liberty, recorded at Roughwood Park in 1939, joined the Royal Navy in 1940. On 17 December 1942 he was killed when the destroyer HMS Firedrake was sunk on convoy duty in the North Atlantic by a U-boat torpedo, during the region’s worst storm for 30 years with Force 12 winds and waves reaching sixty feet.

In 1939 Sir John Ellerman contracted pneumonia and his doctor advised him to spend winters in a warmer climate. Sir John and Lady Ellerman were finally able to travel to Cape Town South Africa in 1947, buying first Norfolk House at Sea Point and then the former Argentinian Embassy at Bantry Bay which became Ellerman House, now a luxury hotel.

From then on, they spent a considerable portion of the year at Ellerman House, and around three months at Roughwood Park.

Amersham Street Directory for 1952-3 shows a “Thomas C Gadd” as the resident at Roughwood Park. Nothing appears to be known about Mr Gadd.

In 1971 the childless Sir John Ellerman transferred around 80% of his considerable assets into two trust funds, Moorgate Trust, and New Moorgate Trust. He died just two years later in 1973. All business relating to Roughwood Park was managed by the New Moorgate Trust. His widow Lady Esther lived on in South Africa and in 1981 at the age of 76 she married the Honourable George Sandbach Borwick.

In 1992 the two trusts merged to become the charitable trust the John Ellerman Foundation, which is still very actively engaged in significant philanthropic work.

Roughwood Park and its grounds were sold by the trust around 1976 to fruit and vegetable importer Vincenzo Poggi, owner of V Poggi and Co, who lived there with his wife Patricia and three children until selling to the current owners, George, and Katharine Weston, around 2000. It remains a private family home.

Special Operations Executive Agents at Roughwood Park (STS 42)

There is no known comprehensive list of all the SOE “F” section agents who spent time at Roughwood Park. But the evidence is that some of the best-known agents were there at some stage.

Jacqueline Nearne: also known as Josette Norville, codename “Jacqueline”

Jacqueline Nearne: also known as Josette Norville
Agent Jacqueline Nearne: also known as Josette Norville

Jacqueline was brought up in France with a British father and Spanish mother, knew France intimately and spoke French fluently. Before the War, she worked as a sales representative for a Paris couturier.

She was recruited by SOE for her knowledge of France and parachuted into France as Courier – carrier of messages – to the “Stationer” network of agents and resistance fighters.

She worked undercover during 1943 and 1944 supporting the circuit head Maurice Southgate, when the normal life expectancy of a courier was just three months, refusing requests to return to England for recuperation.

She proved a highly effective operator and leader with extraordinary courage. When she returned to England in April 1944 she was suffering from physical and nervous exhaustion, after a harrowing year.

She spent time at Roughwood Park undergoing “top up” training as part of her recuperation, taking part in practical missions (known as “schemes”) which could last up to four days. Her appraisal report showing her performance on these schemes states:  

“Her orders as leader are always clear and sound and she has a great deal of self-confidence and personality which makes people obey her orders…. During her stay here (at Roughwood Park) she regained a great deal of her physical and nervous strength.”  

Jacqueline - Now It Can Be Told
Jacqueline Nearne played herself in the 1946 Government film about the SOE: Now It Can Be Told

Jacqueline Nearne appeared as herself alongside fellow “F” section agent Harry Ree in the drama-documentary film made by the RAF film unit “Now It Can Be Told.” It was released in 1947 and spotlighted the work of the Special Operations Executive. She later worked for the United Nations in New York.

Jacqueline’s younger sister Eileen was also recruited as an SoE agent to work in France, but it is not known whether she trained at Roughwood. She had a harrowing time, surviving arrest and interrogation by the Gestapo. The sisters’ remarkable story is told in Susan Ottaway’s powerful biography: Sisters, Secrets and Sacrifice.

Noor Inayat Khan: also known as Jeanne Marie Renier  

Noor was an Indian Princess brought up in Paris with a Sufi father and American mother. She was a talented musician and author of children’s stories

Some senior SOE officers believed she was too sensitive to survive as an undercover agent, but she was a skilled wireless operator and by 1943 – after a number of agent networks had been infiltrated by the Gestapo – SOE was desperately short of skilled wireless operators in France.

Noor served as Wireless Operator for the Prosper circuit which was compromised by a French informer. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and taken to Dachau Concentration Camp where she was tortured and later executed, on 13 September 1944. Her remarkable story is told in Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu.

In a vivid manuscript account of his experiences as an SOE agent during Operation Bergamote, former Roughwood Park Commandant Major Vernon Blomfield describes working meeting two agents whom he had first encountered at Roughwood Park.

  1. Major Percy Mayer, Codename: “Edouard”

Percy Edward Mayer, also known as “Carson” and “Edouard Jacques Galland” was born in Mauritius and was a fluent French speaker.

In his biographical note on Mayer, RW Johnson wrote:

“In March 1944 he and his brother were parachuted into France and helped to organise the local Resistance to launch guerrilla attacks on the Germans in the run-up to D-Day. Although still a French citizen, Mayer received an OBE for his work in Madagascar, and a Military Cross – second only to a Victoria Cross – for his heroic work in the Resistance.”

  1. Philippe Liewer known as Geoffrey M. Staunton, codename “Hamlet”

Philippe Liewer ran the Salesman circuit in Central France with Violette Szabo (“Carve Her Name with Pride”) as his Courier. Szabo was arrested and executed at Ravensbruck, aged 23. Liewer was killed in an accident in Morocco in 1948.

In his book Blackmail Sabotage, Bernard O’Connor writes about a number of agents who were trained at Roughwood Park.

  1. Paul Sarette, also known as Captain P Sawyer, Codename “Gondolier,” Field Name “Amede”

Sarette was a French saboteur recruited by the SOE in France and became one of its most outstanding agents.

Paul Sarette
French-born SOE agent Paul Sarette

He arrived in London for SOE training in May 1943, was assessed at Winterfield Guildford and then underwent “Paramilitary training” at Roughwood Park. After training in “clandestine warfare” at Blackbridge (STS 32c) he parachuted into France 20 December 1943.

Sarette was controller of the Nievre circuit in east central France, using the name “Paul Saulieux,” and with the task of recruiting and training resistance groups to disrupt Nazi forces after D Day.

He was highly successful, building up a force of 1500 men which inflicted severe damage on German forces and infrastructure through guerrilla warfare.

Sarette was killed on 5 September 1944 when, as he watched a trial shoot with one of the 3” mortars which just arrived from England, it exploded killing seven men and wounding five others. Sarette was killed by a single piece of shrapnel which pierced his heart.

  1. Claude Arnault, also known as Jean Claude Arnault: Codename “Neron”

Nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Jean-Claude Arnault was an American agent from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the United States’ equivalent agency to the SOE.

In early 1943 he had been studying at the French Naval Academy in Paris when, to avoid being sent to work in Germany, he made his way through Spain and Portugal to Morocco. 

He trained initially in Algeria before being sent to England where he was attached to F Section. After paramilitary training at Roughwood Park and parachute training at Ringway, he was sent to Brickendonbury for training in industrial sabotage. On the night of 3/4 January 1944, he parachuted near Creon d’Armagnac, Landes, with twenty-year-old courier Anne-Marie Walters, on a mission to train members of George Starr’s Wheelwright network in guerrilla warfare, industrial and bother sabotage.

  • Marie Rose Miguet. Codename “Loulette”

 Miguet, who was French, had worked for Richard Heslop’s “Marksman” circuit in the Ain region as a helper, operating under the name “Marie Marnier.” She was recruited by SOE in France and after basic training was sent to Roughwood Park for advanced training.

Her instructor’s initial report described her as “shy and a little nervous. Not a very highly educated person but probably quite reliable. Fairly good security minded.” But after a fortnight at Roughwood, her instructor had developed a better opinion of Marie Rose. He reported that she was being trained as a courier and “took part in the security scheme (exercise) and showed a fair understanding of the principles.”

He went on:

“This student worked very hard while here and showed great enthusiasm and keenness in all that she did. She is very good with her hands and can manage weapons and explosives effectively, but she has not great confidence in her own mental power, although in actual fact she appears to be very intelligent.

“She has picked up a certain amount of English during her time here and was always a delightful person to deal with in the Mess and in her work (19 August 1944)”

 Bruno Kuhn, known as “Pyetr Kousnestsov” and “Ivan Roberts.”

Kuhn was a Russian agent, and a member of the Russian secret service NKVD.

He worked in close cooperation with British secret service agents on missions in Europe and is reported to have received “wireless transmission training” at Roughwood Park.

 “Binek”

Bernard O’Connor describes an incident, towards the end of the war, when an Anti-Nazi German Prisoner of War known as “Binek” was taken to Roughwood Park as a prisoner. The investigating officer wrote:

“As a result of a report made by O.C. STS.5 to the Night Duty Officer on the night of 30/31 October 1944, I visited STS.5 yesterday afternoon when Bineck [sic] was brought before me on a charge of having made threatening remarks, in that he, on the morning of 31.10.44. had stated in the presence of other students that the next time he was on grenade practice he would throw one at any officer, or officers, who were present …  He was removed Immediately under escort to STS.42 [Roughwood Park, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire] where he arrived at 20.30 hrs and where he will be retained in custody pending arrangements for his removal being completed by Security Section.”

This suggests that, as field operations in France wound down in the late Autumn of 1944, Roughwood Park was also used as a detention centre.

 

SOURCES

 The layout of the Roughwood Estate including Roughwood Park at the start of the Second World War is best seen on Ordnance Survey “Six Inch” Map Buckinghamshire XLIII S.E., published in 1926.

I am deeply indebted to many people for their help and advice in preparing this article, in particular to John Dodd and David Harrison.

John’s richly researched articles on the Chalfont St Giles History website http://www.chalfonthistory.co.uk/ contain a wealth of information about the early history of Roughwood Estate.

David knows more about the Special Operations Executive than most and was always happy to share his deep knowledge. His website  http://soe_french.tripod.com/ contains a list of 430 agents who served with SOE’s “F” French Section.

The National Archives at Kew hold the personal files of many SOE officers and “F” Section agents and also the Register of properties requisitioned by the War Department in Buckinghamshire.

Buckinghamshire Archives at Aylesbury hold the Papers and Correspondence relating to the Roughwood Estate, 1893-1919 (D-X _ 381) which includes the Particulars of the Roughwood Estate Sale in 1913

Major Vernon Blomfield’s account of Operation Bergamote is at the Imperial War Museum (Documents 16205)

Christopher Long’s Website contains detailed information about the Anglo Greek Agelasto Family, including Roughwood Park owner Tryphon Agelasto https://www.christopherlong.co.uk/gen/agelastogen/index.html

The Blomfield family website at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Blomfield-172 has useful information about Major Vernon Blomfield’s early life and family.

Anne Oliver Kendal’s Memoir An Impression of Roughwood in the Twentieth Century, illustrated by Sarah Reddyhoff, was privately printed. Amersham Museum has a reference copy.

Captain John Grayburn VC’s story is told in a booklet reproduced on Amersham Museum website:  https://amershammuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Jack-Grayburn-VC.pdf

M.R.D Foot:                         The SOE In France (1966), SOE 1940-46 (1984)

Bernard O’Connor:            Blackmail Sabotage (2016)

Shrabani Basu:                    Spy Princess (2006)

Claire Mulley:                      The Spy Who Loved (2012)

Susan Ottaway:                  Sisters, Secrets and Sacrifice (2018)

Kate Vigurs:                         Mission France, The True Story of the Women of SOE (2021)

Sue Ryder:                            Child of Our Love (1997)

James Taylor:                      Ellermans – A Wealth of Shipping (1976)

 

Nick Gammage, Chesham Bois

 

Plan Your Visit

49 High Street
Old Amersham
Buckinghamshire
HP7 0DP

01494 723700
[email protected]

We open Wednesdays to Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays, 12noon until 4:30pm.

“Enjoyed our visit to this wonderful interactive museum where you are positively encouraged to touch things!”

“Visited Amersham museum yesterday – lovely place, provides many details on the history of the place. Plenty of cute cafes, pubs and shops around also… not difficult to find free parking nearby. ”

“A well-run, informative and interesting small museum on the main street. It’s mostly volunteer-run and they do a great job in keeping it and making you feel welcome…Check out the herb garden too.”

“Enjoyable film and television location guided walk around Amersham hosted by Amersham Museum – here are the Sun Houses on Highover Park and further up the hill is High & Over.”

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