The National Archives HS 9/289

The total number of female personnel supporting SOE in the Far East by July 1945 was 723. This page is dedicated to them, for without them, Force 136 would not have been able to do what it did. A great deal of their work was concerned with Burma, as that was where the largest operational commitment to the war against Japan was focused.

Of the 723 women employed by SOE, 449 belonged to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, or FANY; 274 remained civilians.

At 368, just over half of the 723 were employed by the Signals establishment. During 1945, they were responsible for 1,422,356 cipher groups going into and coming out of the field from approximately 183 operational W/T sets across Southeast Asia. There were over 50 W/T sets in Burma alone. Women working as cipherettes often worked 12 hour shifts, ensuring that messages to and from operations were sent and received 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The remaining 355 women were distributed on clerical and secretarial roles.

Maiden name will be provided where it is given, and ‘(Mrs)’ inserted after surname if already married but no maiden name given. Where there is no ‘nee’ or ‘(Mrs)’, assume it is Miss.

Banks, Elizabeth Amy: born 6 April 1921 in Newcastle-on-Tyne, Elizabeth was employed as a clerk with SOE from 4 June 1945. Her prior employment was with the National Fire Service, where she was ‘trustworthy and conscientious.’ She was registered as a WAAF.

She left for India on 10 July, and worked in Colombo as a clerk. She left for the UK on 17 November, arriving on 12 December 1945.

HS 9/84/6

Barker, Dorothy Louise: born 14 November 1920 in Harrogate, Yorkshire, Dorothy was employed by SOE from 19 January 1945 as a W/T operator at STS 54b. She left the UK for India on 14 July 1945, returning around the 5 January 1946. Before joining SOE she was a Clerk at the Ministry of Labour.

HS 9/89/8

Baroni, Muriel Theresa Anne: Anglo-Burmese, born 23 July 1918 in Yamethin, Burma. Muriel was employed as a typist in India from 31 August 1943. Prior to this, she had worked for four years as a teachr in Rangoon after attending Rangoon university. She worked in Delhi, Kandy, and Calcutta, as well as in Rangoon from 12 October 1945 until release from service on 15 December 1945.

HS 9/93/7

Birtwistle, Pamela Helen: born 25 August 1922 in Longho near Blackburn, Pamela was an agricultural worker before joining SOE. Her MI5 trace came back with a possible link to a known Fascist, but the details have been redacted. Once this was ruled out, she was a coder at STS 53C from 4 August 1944 before leaving for India in September. She was signed off after her return to the UK on 17 April 1946.

HS 9/157/2 Note incorrect spelling of ‘Birtwistle’ as ‘Birtwhistle’ on the catalogue.

Bonavia, Olga Camilla Gertrude: born 23 September 1924 in Blackheath, London, Olga had a Russian mother and her father was a Major in the RAMC. She was scouted by SOE on 3 August 1943, and employed a week later as a secretary in India.

HS 9/176/5

Bonavia, Tatiana Mary Gertrude: born 11 July 1926 in the Punjab, Tatiana was the sister of Olga (above). Tatiana was employed from 24 July 1943 as a secretary, just after her 17th birthday.

HS 9/176/6

Clarkson, Kathleen May: born 8 April 1921, in Hackney, East London, Kathleen was employed by SOE on 22 May 1944 as a secretary. She left the UK for India on 22 January 1945, returning to the UK on 10 April 1946. Kathleen was a FANY from 22 December 1944, and after training at STS 46 became a cipher operator which increased her salary from £165.00 to £210.00, presumably per annum.

From October 1941 until joining SOE in 1944, she was a shorthand typist with Balfour Beatty & Co.

In the hobbies section of her documents, she recorded ‘cycling, walking on hostel tours, needlework, canteen, Sunday School, reading and music.’ She is recorded as just 5ft tall and 7 st 6lbs.

HS 9/323/4

Cockerill, Carol Wendy (Mrs): born 13 December 1920 in London, SOE ran a trace on Carol on 6 February 1942 to employ her as a secretary at General Headquarters in Delhi. Before this, Carol had worked at the consulate in Basra from June 1940 to May 1941, and at the Army Intelligence School in Karachi from September 1941. It appears that she had a short stay at GHQ Delhi, as she had ‘been discharged vide New Delhi cable dated 12.5.42. No.385.’ That is all there is in the file…

HS 9/331/2

Denton, Dorothy Alice (Mrs): born 3 August 1920 in Simla, India, Dorothy was employed as a secretary from 19 November 1943. Her husband, identified on the MI5 trace, was ‘S/Conductor Frank Denton’ at GHQ (1).

HS 9/419/5

Ferguson, June Margaret: born 20 June 1920 in Kuala Lumpur, June was fluent in Tamil and Malay. She was employed by SOE from 5 May 1944 as a Cipherette in Colombo. Her father is shown as Captain John Ferguson, born Natal, on her MI5 trace. Apparently, June ‘Left for malaya on own initiative’ on 31 August 1945, and was ‘re-engaged’ at Rs400 in Singapore from 13 September 1945 (RS25 more than Colombo).

HS 9/506/8

George, Jean Hilda: born 20 March 1921 in London, Jean was working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production before joining SOE on 3 April 1945. She left for India on 4 May. From 29 May she worked in Kandy, Ceylon, as a shorthand typist. She resigned from Force 136 on 13 November 1945 as she had been given a position at HQ SACSEA in Singapore.

HS 9/577/4

Hall, Joyce: born 9 May 1920 in South Shields, County Durham, Joyce was a FANY. She was employed as a W/T operator at STS 54 from 21 February 1944, leaving for India on 26 September that year. She signed her termination of employment in India on 23 November 1945. Before joining SOE, Joyce was a nurse for two years and nine months.

HS 9/646/4

Harris, Vera Margaret: born 29 October 1923 in Chelsea, London, Vera was employed by SOE as a secretary from 19 June 1944. She left for India on 29 August. She ended up workig as a Cipherette in Meerut from 27 September 1944, and joined the FANYs on 31 January 1945.

HS 9/668/2

Lee, Joyce Eden (nee Burn): born Cleadon, County Durham 13 May 1920. Joyce was employed as a civilian secretary from 4 June 1945. She left the UK for India on 10 July 1945 and was signed off on her return to the UK on 22 March 1946. She worked for the Siam Country Section (SCS). Joyce appears to have found her husband in India, marrying R.H. Lee of 357 (SD) Squadron on 6 December 1945.

HS 9/905/1

Lockey, Irene Kathleen: born 7 December 1918 in London, Irene was employed as a secretry from 13 March 1945, and left for India on 4 May. She had previously worked in Spain for two years as secretary to the head of the wolfram department of UK Commercial Corportation (UKCC), 19 May 1943 – 9 March 1945.

HS 9/933/4

Lumsden, Helen Jane: born 16 January 1920 in Cults Aberdeenshire, Helen had been in the WAAF for over two years when SOE picked her up in July 1943 with a view to employing her as a driver. By September 1943, she was a secretary at Station 53B and enroled as a FANY. She left the UK for India on 5 September 1945 and continued with SOE until 7 May 1946, reaching the rank of Corporal.

HS 9/949/2

Newdick, Sheilah Mary (Nee Doherty): born 10 May 1920 in Tottenham, London, Sheilah was employed as a secretary from 1 May 1944. She left for India on 18 July that year, and worked in Delhi until 30 November 1945 when she resigned breaking her contract. She forfeited any right to repatriation to the UK. Sheilah returned to the UK in March 1946 and applied for a job with Savory & Moore Ltd, for which SOE provided a helpful reference. It seems likely that she forfeited her return passage to stay in India with her husband as her record shows she was Miss Doherty when she left for India, and she appears to have left SOE in November at a natural conclusion to her service.

HS 9/109/2 Note spelling of ‘Sheila’ here, not ‘Sheilah’ as written by her on her forms.

Olsen, N.A.G. (nee Corder): born 9 March 1921 in Folkestone, Kent. Olsen’s file does not provide her first name(s). She was recruited in Poona, India, on 21 July 1943 and worked at the Eastern Warfare School India (EWSI) in Poona as a Cipherette until she shifted to the Special Forces Development Centre in 1944. From 30 January 1945, she was back at EWSI. It would appear that she got married during her time working with SOE.

HS 9/1122/2

Preston, Nellie Elvira: born on 10 December 1920 in Raynes Park, London, Nellie was employed as Insurance Clerk before SOE. She was recruited on 8 August 1944 and left for India on 10 December. From 20 January 1945 until the end of the war she was employed in Ceylon at Kandy and latterly Colombo. Nellie was repatriated to the UK on the Duchess of Richmond on 28 October 1945.

Before the war, Nellie had been in school until age 18, which seems to have been quite unusual. She finished at Wimbledon School of Art and went into employment as a fashion artist. She was made redundant due to the war which had prompted a 50% reduction in staff employed in luxury trades in 1940.

HS 9/1210/1

Reid, Fanny Noelle: born 24 December 1920 in Colombo, Ceylon, Fanny was employed as a secretary from 23 January 1945. She left for India on 6 March 1945, and returned just over twelve months later on 28 March 1946. She was assigned to Siam Country Section as a Stenographer and Typist until 15 June when she worked in Q ops (Supplies). This was due to ‘Adverse report of her work from Lt.Col. Pointon O/C S.C.S.’

Her record shows she had twelve days off work with a lacerated foot in July, as well as Dengue fever in August and Dyspepsia in February 1946.

Before joining SOE, Fanny had attended Mrs Hoster’s Secretarial College and then worked for both the Treasury and the Prime Minister’s Office between 1941 and 1943.

HS 9/1243/4

Ronald, Sarah Jennings: born 13 November 1920 in Smallhythe, Kent, Sarah was a FANY who joined SOE relatively late from 29 June 1945. She was employed as a coder, typex, typist and left for India on 7 August. She returned to the UK in April 1946, signing off from SOE on the 30 April.

Before SOE, Sarah worked at Bletchley Park as a cypher machine operator. She was a stamp collector, dress maker and enjoyed all sports.

HS 9/1279/3

Ross, Beatrice Anna: born 18 February 1920 in Allangrange, Scotland, Beatrice joined SOE on 24 April 1944 and left for India on 9 June that year. From 1937-1940 she had been employed as a shorthand typist, and from 1940 to 1944 served inn the WRNS.

On arrival in India, she worked in Meerut until 3 September 1944 when she was employed in Poona at the Special Forces Development Centre. In March 1945, she went to Kandy, Ceylon. Beatrice sailed for the UK on 15 Septeber 1945.

HS 9/1283/3

Skill, Veda Neave: born 9 October 1920 in Bangalore, India, Veda was employed by SOE from 3 March 1943. Before joining SOE, she had worked at the RNI Cipher Office in Bombay. She continued as a cipher clerk in Poona, but her record does not reveal anything more.

HS 9/1370/5

Smith, Margaret Ada: born 24 February 1921 in Northampton, Margaret was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) Nurse at the RAF hospital in Ely, Cambridgeshire before joining SOE as a secretary from 26 June 1944. She apparently left for India on 29 August 1944, but is recorded as working as a clerk in the camp commandant’s office in Colombo from 22 July 1944.

Margaret returned to the UK onboard the Duchess of Richmond from 28 October 1945. She was employed fairly swiftly as a doctor’s secretary on what she thought was a decent salary (£5 p/w) until she ‘found out what the income tax was.’ After the war, she applied to work as a secretary in the Governor’s office in the Gold Coast (Ghana). Whether she got it is not recorded.

She obviously has quite a bit of personality, as she wrote to the SOE office in London, opening with ‘Do you remember me – the Pest!’ Later on, she asks ‘How are all the abandoned females returning from the East?’ She finished her letter with ‘thanks for your help when I returned so forlornly’.

HS 9/1381/5

Taylor, Denise Ursula (nee Woodward): born 15 November 1919 in London, Denise was to be employed as a senior secretary from 13 December 1943. She left for India on 22 January 1944. On reporting for duty in India on 10 March, there was a back log of ‘dull’ clerking jobs owing to the expansion of Force 136. This caused Denise to dispute her contract and culminated in her walking out of her job with SOE. The resulting correspondence shows that she refused to be brow-beaten by the threat to have her deported to Britain for breach of contract, and she ended up staying in India and marrying Squadron Leader D.L. Taylor in August 1944 – and working as Forces Radio compere.

HS 9/1445/1

Thomson, Helen Mary: born 13 April 1921 in Ashford, Kent, Helen was a secretary at the Bank of England before she joined SOE on 23 January 1945. She had attended the City of London Secretarial College in January 1938 after attending Christ’s Hospital from January 1931 to September 1937.

She left for India on 6 March 1945 and was signed of on 26 April 1946 after her return to the UK. While in the Far East, she worked in Colombo, Kandy and Meerut. A medical note from 21 May 1946 shows that she was suffering from Lamblia (small worms in the intestine) which was not considered a serious condition. The treatment was paid for by SOE, a total of £3. & 3 Shillings (about £111.99 in 2017).

HS 9/1464/6

Townsend, Doreen Marie: born 29 June 1921 in Neasden, London, Doreen was employed as a W/T operator at STS 54 from 24 March 1943. Prior to joining SOE, her occupation is recorded as ‘Student on Singing’.

Doreen left for India on 14 February 1945, returning to the UK in April 1946.

HS 9/1479/8

Trigger, Eileen Shirley: born 20 April 1920 in Newcastle, Staffordshire, Eileen was employed as a secretary from 14 November 1944, recruited by FANY HQ. She left for India on Valentine’s Day 1945 after a spell at STS 46, and was signed off on return to the UK on 28 March 1946. Before joining SOE, she worked as a secretary to the director of production in an Engineering Company.

HS 9/1484/3

Wright, Angela Mary: born 14 February 1924 in Dublin, Angela was a student at Cheltenham Ladies’ College when SOE looked into employing her in March 1943. From 15 may 1943, she was employed as a FANY W/T operator at STS 54. On 26 September 1944, Angela left for India, and was signed off after her return to the UK on 5 December 1945. Her home address is recorded as Surrenden Road in Brighton.

HS 9/1622/6