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The thing with the SOE files at Kew (HS series) is that you never know what you are going to get. This is particularly the case when opening the Personnel Files (PF). In one file, there might be four or five documents, for example an MI5 trace, a record of expenses and notification of appointment to SOE; in another, there might be 80 odd documents. Normally it is somewhere in between, and often it is fairly standard stuff, which allows the researcher to get a really good idea of who the person was and what their war service entailed. In many there is a photograph or two of the person of interest, but for many they remain faceless unless photographs and positive identification can be made elsewhere. It is these files that I am using to create my ‘Men of SOE Burma ‘ Roll of Honour on this website, supplemented by other sources and operational files.
For the moment, I am just adding people who actually served in Burma, excluding those who supported operations in Burma but never went there. This means staff officers, training officers, signallers and the civilian or FANY female ‘cipherettes’ who remained in India or Ceylon are excluded – for now at least. This is not to say that their role is considered any less important, and their war service forgotten. It should be remembered that these non-combatants made considerable sacrifices too, and sometimes lives were lost.
That is what this blog post is all about. It is the story of a female ‘cipherette’ called Maimie Elizabeth Parker, known as Betty. Betty has a rather extensive PF, because she was murdered on 6 June 1945 in Calcutta.
Betty was born in Totnes, Devon, on 27 October 1917. She was an only child, and clearly very much loved and doted upon by her parents. The family home was 72 Norfolk Avenue, London N13:
Shortly after war was declared on 3 September 1939, Betty left her job as a clerk because she ‘wished to do war work’. She was then employed by the Ministry of Food as a clerk. She left this job on 20 May 1942 because she had a ‘wish to do more vital work.’ When SOE found her, she was assistant manageress of a National Service Hostel in Letchworth Garden City. She joined SOE on 8 November 1943.
On 1 December she signed a contract to become a cipher clerk in India, earning 310 Rupees per month plus local allowances. A cipher clerk was responsible for either encoding or decoding messages from the teams out on operations. After training, Betty left for India in the Spring of 1944. She worked without any leave until her death on 6 June 1945. She had just applied for, and been granted, leave from 18 June until 10 July. She was going to go to Kashmir with a friend named only as ‘Geoffrey’, a married man with whom she appears to have found some companionship. Here is her last letter home:
Betty was found dead on the morning of 6 June. It was believed that she died from ‘unnatural’ causes, probably suffocated by a pillow in her bedroom. SOE was not happy with the police investigation:
‘Geoffrey’ was investigated and cleared of murder; apparently he had the ‘perfect alibi’. The other theory was that someone sneaked into Betty’s room, killed her and stole the 500 Rupees that she had withdrawn that day to pay for her break in Kashmir. Betty was buried in the English cemetery Lower Circular Road on on 7 June 1945, the day after her murder:
Betty’s parents asked for help with funds to gain a passage to India to visit their daughter’s grave. They also wanted to reopen the investigation, as nobody was arrested for their daughter’s murder. Their application for funds was turned down. It seems that her murder was left unresolved, and her parents never made it to India: