SOE Agent Profiles

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Jacques Poirier

Recruited: May 1943

Roles: Assistant, Circuit Organiser (F Section)


Codename: Nestor

Fate: Survived

image of SOE agent Jacques Poirier

Jacques René Edouard Poirier was born in Neuilly, Paris on 13 July 1922, to French parents. He attended the Lycée Pasteur, but his studies were cut short when his family moved to Mougins near Cannes just before the outbreak of war. He was keen to join the Resistance and ran errands for a local network, then in late 1942 he was given the job of assisting F Section agent Harry Peulevé, whose leg was in plaster after a disastrous parachute jump in July.

The Riviera became a more dangerous place after the Germans occupied southern France in November, and despite his physical state Peulevé was intent on escaping to Spain. He agreed to take Jacques with him, and after being double‐crossed by smugglers at the border, they both managed to cross the Pyrenees just before Christmas. Unfortunately they were both picked up by Spanish police the next day, and were taken to nearby Figueras prison. After two months in appalling conditions they were moved to Jaraba, a spa town used as a camp for officers, where they met another F Section agent, Denis Rake. Peulevé was desperate to return to England and successfully escaped on 11 April, while Jacques was released through official channels a few days later. They were reunited in London in early June.

Having been recommended for training as an agent, Jacques was obliged to disguise himself as a British officer and would adopt the new name of 'Jack Peters', although his English was still quite basic. While on the commando course at Arisaig he met Cyril Watney, whose family he had known before the war, and also ran into George Hiller, who he had been to school with in Paris. In September Peulevé returned to France to begin a new circuit called AUTHOR in the rural Corrèze department, on the understanding that Jacques would become his assisant once his training was complete.

Owing to bad weather Jacques did not parachute into France until the end of January 1944, and was accidentally dropped more than 100 kilometres south east of his drop zone. On arrival he soon found out that both Cyril and George had arrived earlier that month, and were part of an adjacent circuit, named FOOTMAN. He was also introduced to French writer André Malraux, who had some important connections with communist resistance in the region. Some weeks later he was shocked to run into his father, who had joined the Resistance and was on the run. "Commandant Robert" agreed to join AUTHOR, and accepted the necessity of taking orders from his son.

By March AUTHOR had armed more than 4000 men, but just after Poirier departed to visit his mother in the French Alps, Peulevé was arrested by the Gestapo. Jacques was fortunate to evade capture himself, only hearing a warning message on the BBC French Service by chance (sent by Watney). With an urgent need for F Section to continue the work Peulevé had started, Jacques agreed to become the head of a new circuit, DIGGER, and stepped up the number of supply drops in preparation for D‐Day. Assisted by an arms instructor sent from London, Peter Lake, and wireless operator Ralph Beauclerk, DIGGER was able to successfully hold up for several days the SS Das Reich Panzer Division on its way to Normandy, and on 15 August Jacques accepted the surrender of the German garrison at Brive‐la‐Gaillarde, becoming the first town in France to be liberated by Resistance forces.

Still believed to be a British officer, "Captain Jack" was now able to reveal his true identity to his French compatriots, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in July 1945. He left SOE to work for Shell in Africa, South America and Europe, and after retiring became the head of Fédération Nationale Libre Résistance, an organisation dedicated to remembering those who served with SOE's French networks. He died in Paris in 2005, aged 83. His memoirs, entitled The Giraffe Has a Long Neck, were published in French in 1992 and English in 1995, and won the Prix du Maréchal Foch.

Further reading

The Giraffe Has a Long Neck by Jacques Poirier (Pen and Sword, 1995).

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