LONDON (AP) — Hundreds of Britons mourned a reclusive World War II heroine during her funeral Tuesday, remembering a woman who was tortured by the Nazis after she was caught behind enemy lines.
Military officials and crowds of people attended a service for Eileen Nearne in southern England’s Devon — but her secret wartime service as a spy only came to light after she died of a heart attack on Sept. 2. She died alone at age 89.
Nearne’s clandestine mission to occupied France in 1944 — when she was just 23 — was to operate a wireless transmitter that served as a vital link between the French resistance and war planners in London.
Posing as a French shop girl, she helped coordinate supply lines and weapons drops in advance of the D-Day invasion that marked the beginning of the liberation of Europe. Nearne stayed on the job until the Nazis caught her in July 1944, and sent her to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. She later escaped after being sent to a smaller nearby camp.
Nearne, who was known as Agent Rose, maintained her secrecy and never discussed her wartime exploits with her neighbors in Torquay, the seaside town 190 miles (300 kilometers) southwest of London where she lived until her death.
Her bravery was not publicly acknowledged until local officials went into her apartment after her death and found a treasure trove of medals, records and memorabilia, including French currency used during the war.
Nearne’s niece, who was traced to Italy following her aunt’s death and who wanted to remain anonymous, said she hoped that Nearne would be remembered alongside other Special Operations Executive agents with pride and gratitude. That unit was created by wartime leader Winston Churchill to wreak havoc in parts of mainland Europe that had fallen under Nazi control.
“My aunt Eileen was a very private and modest person, and without doubt she would be astounded by all the public and media attention,” she said.