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Royal Navy joins resistance fighters to remember wartime mission

1 June 2017
The 75th anniversary of a clandestine Second World War mission was recently commemorated in Antibes in the South of France.

On April 21, 1942, Royal Navy submarine HMS Unbroken silently slipped towards the French coastline.

On board were operatives from the Special Operations Executive (SOE), the Wartime intelligence agency tasked with espionage, reconnaissance and sabotage in occupied Europe.

Under the daring command of Alistair Mars, HMS Unbroken successfully delivered the Wartime agents, led by Peter Churchill, to Antibes bay. 

I spoke with one French gentleman who ran messages to the Resistance in Antibes during the time of the landings when he was a ten-year-old boy.

Lieutenant Commander Noblett

Churchill was able to link up with the French Resistance and carry the fight to the Nazi occupiers.

To commemorate the event, a ceremony was held at the memorial to the mission at Antibes on April 21.

Among those attending was the Mayor of Antibes - Juan les Pins, Dr Jean Leonetti, Christian Giampreti on behalf of the Resistants' Association, Commander Simon Jackson representing the Royal British Legion, and Christopher Thirsk whose father, Lieutenant Paul Thirsk, had been the Navigating Officer on board HMS Unbroken.

Representing the Royal Navy Submarine Service was Lieutenant Commander Peter Noblett, a submariner currently seconded to the French Submarine Squadron.

"It is always fascinating to hear stories from people who witnessed first-hand these types of operations," said Lieutenant Commander Noblett.

"I spoke with one French gentleman who ran messages to the Resistance in Antibes during the time of the landings when he was a ten-year-old boy."

HMS Unbroken was a Royal Navy U-class submarine, part of the "Fighting Tenth" - the Tenth Submarine Flotilla which was based in Malta during the war.

Led by Peter Churchill, the SOE agents used inflatable boats to paddle from the submarine in Antibes bay to the shore.

From there they made their way to the French Resistance, bringing them directives, helping to improve their communications, and arranging help for those brave fighters who had been arrested.

Peter Churchill's exploits were later portrayed by Trevor Howard in the 1950 film "Odette".

The driving force behind the ceremony was Christopher Thirsk, who contacted Commander Simon Jackson of the Antibes branch of the Royal British Legion and Commander Jerry Bernau, current Submarine Service Commander at HM Naval Base Clyde.

Attending with his six-year-old daughter Lara, Chris Thirsk read an extract from Alistair Mar's book "Unbroken", during the commemoration.

"I'd been on holiday in the South of France with some university friends around 1986 and took a few photos," he said.

"I was boring my father with my holiday snaps when he said 'that's in Antibes isn't it?'

“When I asked how he knew he said he was very familiar with the area as he'd navigated a submarine into the bay at night in 1942 to land some agents.

“That's pretty much all he said about it! Later I read more about in in Alistair Mars' book."

Later, during the commemoration, Commander Jackson read a summary of the operation in both French and English, recalling the tenacity and skill of the submariners during the landing and the courage and self-sacrifice of the SOE agents and those in the French Resistance.

Lieutenant Commander Noblett read the Submariners' Prayer which was followed by a wreath laying by the attendees.

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