Byline: Paul Harris reports
IT TOOK seven decades and a belated helping hand but the nation finally paid its debt yesterday to the spy we left out in the cold.
In a send-off fit for a heroine, wartime agent Eileen Nearne was given a guard of honour and a remarkable show of public gratitude at a funeral that might otherwise have passed unnoticed. Three weeks ago, the 89-year-old spinster was destined to make her final journey in a modest municipal ceremony, unmourned and unrecognised beyond her life as a recluse with no known friends or relatives.
Yesterday, after the extent of her courage behind enemy lines during the Second World War was revealed, she was honoured as one of the secret heroines who helped Britain win the struggle against Hitler.
Miss Nearne was part of an elite band of women in the Special Operations Executive, sending vital information back to Britain from occupied France.
She survived discovery, capture, and torture by the Gestapo, escaping three times from prison camps to continue her work. By the time the war was over, she had sent more than 100 coded messages across the Channel, a feat that saved countless lives. Yet, despite being made an MBE, as well as winning citations for gallantry and the French Croix de Guerre, the London-born linguist faded into virtual anonymity.
She suffered a breakdown because of her experiences and, after recovering, worked as a nurse before living out her twilight years in Torquay.
When she died alone of a heart attack in her small but elegant flat, it was several days before anyone noticed. Only when council officials searched her papers did the secret she had kept so modestly emerge. …