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Odette, WWII Heroin
On Remembrance Day, I met an ex-service woman called Yvonne Burney, also known under the code name “Odette”…
Born in Paris in 1922, she travelled to different European countries before settling in London in 1937 with her parents - a French mother and a British father, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot during the First World War.
On 4 September 1940, only aged eighteen, Yvonne enrols as a WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). « In war time, you don’t mind, you sign up » she confides with great humility. Like her father before her, she is keen to help her country and is quickly promoted to officer. Thanks to her fluent French she joins the SEO (Special Operation Executive). From that moment on, she is Odette, the British spy.
Odette becomes a radio-operator and starts training in the North of England for a potential air drop.
On 18 March 1944, a few months before D Day, the SCHOLAR operation is launched. Odette and Lucien, her team mate, are to be parachuted in France under false identities. Their mission is to ensure radio communication between the French Resistance and the British Forces.
Unfortunately for Lucien and Odette, their first attempt at landing in Dôle (Jura) is aborted... On their second attempt, they are dropped in the Landes, a safer place, but they then have to make their way to Dôle…After a long and dangerous land-odyssey, they finally reach their destination where they go underground and begin working with the French Resistance.
On 26 June 1944, the mission takes a tragic turn. Lucien, Odette and some French Resistance members are picked up by the German local police. During the arrest, Lucien is killed. Odette is left to face the Germans alone. Interrogated in Dijon, she pretends to be innocent…
Finally, Odette is interned at the Ravensbrück’s camp…Her prisoner’s number is 32 947… Odette chooses not to comment on her stay there. She simply adds that she was lucky to have been directly sent to this camp without being subjected to hard questioning by the Parisian Gestapo. « C’est l’avantage de la province» she says ironically.
Liberated on 27 April 1945, by the Swedish Red Cross, Odette, weakened by her hard life in a camp, comes back to London where she begins her new life. She is Yvonne once again…
Now aged 89, Yvonne Burney tells her story with astonishing humility. Awarded the Légion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre, Yvonne returns to a normal life after the war. Forever a war heroine, forever an example to us all - Odette, we salute you.