Road in Wellington named to honour war heroine, Odette Hallowes
17 Mar 2022

An event to honour World War Two Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent, Odette Hallowes (1912 ?" 1995) took place in Wellington after a road was dedicated to her at Bovis Homes’ new Monument View development. The celebration of Odette, which saw the road name unveiled, was attended by her granddaughter, Sophie Parker who lives in Surrey; the mayor of Wellington, councillor Mark Lithgow; councillor Nancy Powell-Brace; local historian, Amyas Crump; plus local connections, and members from Wellington Town Council and Bovis Homes. Guests heard about Odette’s incredible strength during the war, learnt about her time spent in Wellington and viewed the new signs, which include a QR code that provides new residents and passers-by with Odette’s biography. The campaign to name the road after Odette was spearheaded by Councillor Nancy Powell-Brace ?" owner of Odette’s Tearooms in Wellington ?" after she learnt about her bravery through a local opera, which her brother Nick Brace wrote and Amyas Crump was involved in. Nancy contacted the team at Bovis Homes, who worked with the local authority to make her idea become a reality. Councillor Nancy Powell-Brace said: "It has been an honour and a privilege to play some small part in keeping the incredible story of Odette Hallowes alive and, on many, many occasions tell her story anew to both local people and those travelling through our wonderful town." The road name pays homage to Odette’s remarkable courage and survival. Her granddaughter, Sophie Parker, commented: “French-born Odette chose to move to the westcountry with her three daughters to escape the blitz in London, and she found a sense of peace in the countryside and a warmth in its people ?" it became home. It was while living in the westcountry that Odette inadvertently came to the attention of the British Government. They believed her knowledge of France and fluency in the language would make her a strong candidate to join the SOE and she became an agent behind enemy lines, where she completed many duties before she was eventually captured and condemned to death on two counts. Her reply was: ‘Gentlemen you must take your pick of the counts, I can only die once.’ “Odette endured 14 brutal interrogations and torture for information on her work and her fellow agents, but she refused to say anything. Her silence saved those agents’ lives and enabled them to carry on their vital work. She was often denied food and spent almost two years in solitary confinement, longing to be with her daughters and undoubtedly yearning for the freedom of her beloved westcountry, until the war finally ended and she was released.” Odette was the first woman to be awarded the George Cross, the highest non-military decoration for gallantry. She was also presented with an MBE and appointed a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. Sophie added: “Our family would like to thank Nancy whose idea it was to name a road after Odette, as it is thanks to her that we have Odette Avenue. We would also like to thank the local council, Bovis Homes and everyone involved for dedicating this road to Odette. We also want to praise Amyas Crump who has helped to complete the picture of Odette’s time in Somerset and Devon, and who has kept her story alive. “It is our family’s hope that Odette Avenue will give all those who choose it as their home, as well as the wider community, the opportunity to pause, to reflect and to remember what Odette and so many brave people like her did for our country. To know that her legacy here lives on is wonderful.” Local historian, Amyas Crump has taken Sophie’s family on tours to see first-hand the places that Odette lived, shopped and walked. Amyas commented: “The horrors and deprivation brought about by international conflict, are things that we can all relate to, in some way. For the young French woman, Odette and her three children, the Blackdown Hills became a haven after enduring the World War Two bombing of the London blitz. It was here that they made their home, and the value that they placed on the beauty of these hills and the friendship of the local people, that played a key role in Odette agreeing to join SOE, despite knowing the extraordinarily high risks of capture and death. It is so fitting that residents of Odette Avenue can look out over that same view of those beloved hills, that Odette had from her cottage window.” Mayor of Wellington, councillor Mark Lithgow said: “As mayor of Wellington, I was moved by the emotions of the three speakers as they told us the story of Odette. I am very pleased to see her remembered by way of having a road named after her. Also, the information board with a QR code, which allows people to download Odette’s story of bravery.” Thomas Jupp, site manager at Bovis Homes’ Monument View development, said: “It’s fantastic that the road has been named after Odette and as a former marine, it’s been fascinating to learn about her courage and resilience. I feel proud to come to site each day knowing that her bravery will be remembered for years to come ?" it’s a very fitting tribute.” Monument View is located on the outskirts of Wellington and will feature 205 new homes, along with areas of green open space and a play park. For more information on Odette Hallowes, view the QR code. A summary of Odette’s biography • Odette was born in Amiens, France, in 1912 and moved to London in 1933 with her English husband, Roy Sansom. She had three daughters, Francoise, Lili and Marianne. • As the war continued to unfold, it was while living in the westcountry that Odette inadvertently came to the attention of the British Government. They believed her knowledge of France and fluency in the language would make her a strong candidate to join the Special Operations Executive; an organisation formed to conduct espionage and sabotage in occupied countries, and to work with local resistance groups. • In November 1942, having undergone her training, Odette was sent to France. With the code name, Lise, and a full cover story, she joined Captain Peter Churchill, as part of the Spindle Network. • Odette’s work involved transporting messages and funds; securing safe-houses for her radio operator and other agents; as well as identifying and preparing landing sites for British aircraft bringing in new agents, supplies and weapons. A key mission she undertook was to go to Marseilles and collect a suitcase containing detailed plans of the port, and to send it back to Britain, at a time when Marseilles was teaming with Gestapo. • In April 1943, Odette and Peter Churchill were betrayed and arrested. Odette had the presence of mind to deceive her captors, telling them that she and Peter were married and related to Winston Churchill, even though there was no relation at all. In doing so, she hoped the Gestapo would believe that they could be useful to them in their negotiations and would be kept alive. • Odette endured 14 brutal interrogations and torture for information on her work and her fellow agents, but she refused to say anything. Her silence saved those agents’ lives and enabled them to carry on their vital work. • Odette was taken to Fresnes prison in Paris and condemned to death on two counts. • In May 1944, she commenced the long and arduous journey to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp north of Berlin, where she was held until its liberation in 1945. • At Ravensbruck, Odette was initially put in solitary confinement in an underground bunker. There, she spent a total of three months and 11 days in complete darkness, day and night, and on starvation rations. In August 1944, in vengeance for the Allies successfully landing in the south of France, Odette found herself punished by having all food withdrawn for a week, and the heating in her bunker turned up to unbearable levels. • Odette returned to London on 8 May 1945. • On arriving back in England, her first thought was to be reunited with her daughters, and then to visit the countryside and the people of Somerset and Devon that she had held so dear, in order to recuperate and to regain a sense of normal life and peace. • Odette was the first woman to be awarded the George Cross, the highest non-military decoration for gallantry. Her other awards included an MBE in 1945 and in 1950 she was appointed a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. • After living in London for many years, Odette moved to Surrey. She died at her home in March 1995. Her grave is at Hersham’s, Burvale Cemetery.

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