Author and wartime spy trainer Noreen Riols made MBE in New Year Honours

Alex Green and Kerri-Ann Roper, PA

Sat, 31 December 2022 at 7:24 am GMT

Noreen Riols, one of the last surviving female members of the French section of the Special Operations Executive – known as “Churchill’s Secret Army” – has dedicated her MBE to the memory of her late “comrades”.

As a member of the British espionage and sabotage organisation, Mrs Riols, 96, trained agents ahead of their deployment to occupied France.

She is named in the overseas section of the New Years Honours list for her services to UK/France relations and Second World War education.

The published author of some 10 books told the PA news agency: “I am thrilled to bits. It is a great surprise but I am thrilled to bits.”

She added: “I would like to dedicate it to the memory of those comrades of mine in SOE. It isn’t really my honour. I share it with my comrades in the SOE.”

Born in Malta to English parents, Mrs Riols joined the SOE aged 18 in 1943 because she spoke fluent French.

When she was recruited she was warned not to tell anyone about her work, not even family and friends, and claimed she was a secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fish in London as cover.

When she received her call-up papers in 1943 she intended to join the Wrens because she liked the hats they wore.

But she was recruited into the F Section of the SOE, led by the controversial Colonel Maurice Buckmaster.

She was never parachuted into occupied France, despite wanting to go.

After the war Mrs Riols joined the BBC, where she worked as a journalist and met her future husband.

Only in 2000, when the Government released the secret SOE files, was she revealed to be an operative.

She had kept it secret for nearly 60 years and never even told her mother.

In 2013, while living in France with her husband Jacques, she attended the Cheltenham Literature Festival to discuss her recently published autobiography The Secret Ministry of Ag. & Fish: My Life in Churchill’s School for Spies.

Discussing life during the war, she told the event: “It’s not glamorous.

“It’s a life of fear, of tension, of betrayal and that dread of the hammering on the door in the middle of the night or that tap on the shoulder with the gun pointing into your back.

“You know the game is up and all that remains is being tortured, the concentration camp and the possibility of execution in the most barbaric manner.”

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