Modest Auckland heroine receives France's highest honour

By Andrew Stone

93-year-old Pippa Doyle is being awarded the Legion of Honor in recognition of her courage in helping liberate France from the Nazis.
93-year-old Pippa Doyle is being awarded the Legion of Honor in recognition of her courage in helping liberate France from the Nazis.

World War Two heroine Pippa Doyle was tonight awarded France's highest honour in a special ceremony at New Zealand's SAS base.

Mrs Doyle, 93, received the Legion of Honor from French Ambassador Laurent Contini.

Mrs Doyle said: "It's a privilege and honour to receive this medal."

Victoria Cross winner Willie Apiata was among those to congratulate the modest WW II secret agent.

Mrs Doyle was a secret agent for Britain's Special Operations Executive sent on a dangerous mission to collect information about German positions ahead of the D-Day landings in June 1944.

WHO WAS AGENT GENEVIEVE? The remarkable story of a modest wartime spy who put her life on the line

She roamed the French countryside on a bicycle, spying on German troop movements, and sent coded messages back to London from wireless sets she had concealed with the help of the resistance.

Mr Contini told the Herald that Mrs Doyle - whose code-name was Genevieve - was a "formidable example for younger and older generations alike."

He said: "I have deep admiration for her bravery and her unshakeable commitment to ending the war."

Mrs Doyle - then Phyllis Latour, a flight mechanic with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force - was just 23 when she was selected for a crash training course in tough physical tasks, unarmed combat, weapons drill and morse code to prepare her for the underground mission.

She dropped from a US Air Force bomber on 2 May 1944, but landed three fields away from her intended landing site.

A French resistance group took an hour to find her, fearful that German patrols would reach her first.

Mrs Doyle spent a gruelling three months evading detection and often living rough. At times she slept in forests, and had to forage for food.

Though she has rarely spoken of her brave life as an agent, when capture could mean execution by the SS, she recalled one family who gave her shelter told her the meal they were eating was squirrel. She found out later it was rat.

Working with resistance network, Mrs Doyle had several close calls when stopped for questioning by suspicious German troops. To avoid detention, the young agent would chatter away in fluent French, talking so much that the soldiers would "get sick of me."

After the war, Mrs Doyle was made an MBE by a appreciative British Government and decorated by Paris with a Croix de Guerre - a Cross of War.

Mrs Doyle, who has four children, moved to New Zealand several decades ago. For many years she has preferred to shun the limelight, though she does enjoy the company of veterans.

The award she is receiving this evening however is at the request of the French Government, who wanted to recognise her extraordinary wartime role.

- NZ Herald

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