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The SWW2LN plays a part in the BBC’s story of a ring and a forgotten secret agent.

A French World War Two hero who worked as a British agent behind enemy lines had been forgotten. But now his story can be told – thanks to a 98 year old British veteran and a golden engagement ring.

At 15:30 on 9 September 1944, just inside the front gates of the notorious Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp, 16 prisoners of war stood waiting.

All were Allied agents who’d been captured behind enemy lines. Eight of them were Frenchmen working with the UK’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) – Churchill’s “secret army” – and the remainder were British, Canadian and Belgian. Before these men had been caught by the Germans, they had been parachuted into occupied territory to support the Resistance ahead of D-Day.

Earlier that day, their block chief at the camp had been handed a list of their names. Each one had been struck through in red by the Gestapo.

The men had been given the impression they’d been summoned to be interrogated. They wouldn’t necessarily have worried their lives were at risk – they’d been told they were to be exchanged for a group of German officers at some point in the future. But one of the prisoners was suspicious.

“Only little Marcel Leccia, who came from Ajaccio, said, ‘We’re going to be hanged,’” the block chief, a German political prisoner named Otto Storch who worked as a kapo or inmate-orderly, recalled after the war.

Leccia was 33, from a distinguished Corsican Resistance family, and his experiences of war had left him with good cause to be distrustful – he’d ended up in Buchenwald after he was betrayed by a supposed comrade who was secretly working for the Germans.

A British officer who had once trained Leccia in guerrilla combat described him as impulsive and quick-witted, “never lost for words, cheerful, entertaining and very sociable” – as he put it, a typical Frenchman. Another noted his “cynical and imperious” manner. But Leccia had a tender side, too.

During his training, he had fallen in love with a fellow SOE agent named Odette Wilen and the couple had become engaged. So in Buchenwald, before gathering at the gates with the other prisoners, Leccia handed something to Storch. “He gave me his engagement ring,” the block chief wrote in a report…

Please read the full story here.

Credits: Text by Jon Kelly, Senior Journalist, BBC; research by Paul McCue (Trustee) and Pat Vinycomb (Friend) of the SWW2LN.


Marcel Leccia, Leccia family

The engangement ring

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