Phyllis Latour Doyle: Lady who dislike limelight

93 years old Phyllis Latour Doyle, also known as Pippa among her friends had an opportunity to receive the award, Legion of Honour which is supposed to be the highest decoration of France. On Tuesday 25th November 2014 she was felicitated with the award for her gallantry shown at the time of removing Nazi Germans from France.

70 years ago when she was serving as a British secret spy she was dropped into Calvados, Normandy, France on 1st May 1944 which was occupied by the Germans. Her drop in the enemy occupied land was targeted with the operation to collect information related to the Germany’s move on the D-Day landings. She wanted to take the revenge from the Germans for murdering her close family relative and therefore, she found this platform of secret agent to fulfil her revenge. And she was also successful in her job where she collected 135 secret messages for Britain just before liberation of France in August 1944.

Until 15 years ago Mrs. Doyle’s children were not aware of Mrs. Doyle’s past life as a courageous British secret spy. She received the MBE award by the British government for her courageous deeds. At the time of the Second World War she was working as an agent under Special Operation Executive (SOE). Her mother was an English lady but her father was a French doctor and therefore, she held a good command over the French language. This was the reason that though she joined in the RAF in 1941 where she was supposed to be trained as a flight mechanic she was spotted away by the secret services to receive a training in espionage.

She said: “It wasn’t until after my first round that they told me they wanted me to become a member of the SOE. They said I could have three days to think about it. I told them I didn’t need three days to make a decision; I’d take the job now.”

She said: “We learnt how to get in a high window, and down drain pipes, how to climb over roofs without being caught.”

The SOE operatives were given different code names to work with. Mrs. Doyle has also given three different code names of Genevieve, Plus Fours and Lampooner to execute her work from 1942 when she was first deployed in Aquitaine Vichy, France. On 1st May 1944 when she made a jump into Calvados, Normandy to achieve her target of liberating France she was given a new code name of Paulette. During that time she was 23 years old. She had to disguise herself into a 14 years old French girl in order to escape from Germans. She used bicycle to visit around the occupied area and she passed German’s information to Britain via coded messages, The Telegraph reports.

Laurent Contini, the French ambassador to New Zealand said: “I have deep admiration for her bravery and it will be with great honour that I will present her with the award of Chevalier de I’Ordre National de La Legion d’ Honneur, France’s highest decoration.”

Mrs. Doyle said: “I was asked if I wanted them to be formally presented to me, and I said no, I didn’t, it was my family who wanted them.”

Mrs. Doyle who was never in favour of the publicity of her brave deeds will be now largely recognised by people after receiving such an honourable award.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE