- her work of great value to the allies
- escaped to England in 41 and worked in the Air Ministry
- of British parents in Paris
- tried to get into SOE and could speak fluent French
- accepted to SOE,was parachuted to France to help French Resistance codenamed Marie
- was one of 39 women sent to France
- she was in the Stationer network of Maurice Southgate and linked up with Henri Cornioley
- squadron leader Southgate was captured and she was suddenly in charge of 1500 Resistance Fighters in the Wrestler Network
- Pearl reorganized Wrestler to great effect
- This unit operated in the Valencay-Issoudun-Chateauroux triangle
- Added by Henri Cornioley, whom she later married
- 18000 Germans were POW's to Wrestler see narrative below
Pearl Witherington was one of thirty nine women who parachuted into France
to work for the Special
Operations Executive, the group tasked by Winston
Churchill to 'set Europe ablaze'. Witherington, once in France, was in
constant danger, as was any member of SOE. However, the work Witherington did
was of great value to the Allies - so much value, that the Germans placed a huge
reward on her head.
Pearl Witherington was born on June 24th, 1914, to
English parents who were living in Paris. She was the eldest of four daughters.
Pearl did not start school until aged thirteen but she had to start work at an
early age to financially support her family as a result of her father’s
drinking. After the German invasion of Western
Europe in the spring of 1940, it would have
been very likely that the family would have been held as internees.
As a result, Pearl organised the escape of her family to England in 1941. Once in England,
Pearl started to work in the Air Ministry. She found the work tedious and tried
to get into the Special Operations
Executive. The fact that she could speak fluent French was a major benefit
and she was accepted for training.
After just three weeks training, Pearl
returned to France on September 22nd ,1943, posing as a representative for a
cosmetics company and with the codename 'Marie'. She was just one of thirty-nine
women who were parachuted into France to help the French
Resistance. Once in France she was in the 'Stationer Network' led by Maurice
Southgate and linked up with Henri Cornioley. Witherington spent eight months
working primarily as a courier delivering coded messages to radio operators. Her
work, as with any SOE operative, could be very arduous and dangerous. On one
occasion she had to wade waist-deep with her bike slung across her back through
a freezing river as a bridge she needed to cross was unexpectedly being guarded.
Her fluency in French was also a great help in avoiding trouble.
greatest challenge came when the leader of SOE in the area she operated in,
Squadron Leader Maurice Southgate, was captured. She suddenly found herself in
charge of 1,500 Resistance fighters, known as the ‘Wrestler’ network. This unit
operated in the Valencay-Issoudun-Chateauroux triangle
Added by Henri
Cornioley, whom she later married, Pearl reorganised ‘Wrestler’ to great effect.
In the lead up to D-Day in an
effort to disrupt the Germans as much as was physically possible, ‘Wrestler’
blew up 800 stretches of railway lines and supply routes and as the Allies
advanced out of Normandy, 18,000 Germans gave themselves up as POW's to
‘Wrestler’. The Nazis put a one million franc bounty on her (about £500,000 in
today’s money) such was her success.
Pearl Witherington and Henri Cornioley
both escaped to London in September 1944 and married the
following month. Witherington's name was put forward for a Military Cross but
women were not eligible for the medal and she never received it.
Cornioley died in 1999 while Pearl is still alive having just been awarded her
parachute wings in April 2006. In World War Two, parachute
wings were given after four training jumps and one operational one. However,
women completed three training jumps before being parachuted into France to
complete work for the SOE.
Therefore, Pearl Witherington did four jumps and not the five required. Aged 91,
she was awarded her wings by Squadron Leader Rhys Cowsill at her home near