Oliver H Brown, OBE, member of the wartime SOE, is pictured (left) receiving the Netherlands Resistance Memorial Cross from Prince Bernhard.
Saturday, 02 July 2005

Oliver H Brown OBE (S. 1927-31), SOE officer who trained guerrilla teams for the French and Dutch resistance. Died, 2nd July 2005, aged 91.

Despite having no relevant experience, Oliver Brown became the chief instructor at Milton Hall, Peterbrough, where agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) were trained in guerrilla warfare and sabotage in preparation for being parachuted into German-occupied France and the Low Countries. Forty years later he received the Netherlands Resistance Memorial Cross for training Dutch agents.

Born in Paris where his father was an authenticator of Old Master paintings, Oliver Haward Brown was educated at Brighton College and, as a member of the Territorial Army, was called up in 1939. He was commissioned into The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) but once the invasion scare of 1940-41 was over, he answered a call for French speakers to join SOE.

After he had mastered the techniques and passed the parachute course, he became chief instructor at Milton Hall. Those under instruction were to be dropped in three-man teams, codenamed Jedburghs, forward of the Allied advance in northwest Europe to make contact with the local resistance movements, provide them with arms and explosives and then organise the sabotaging of railways and communication links to hinder the German response to the invasion. The Jedburghs wore uniform to indicate they were not spies, but some were captured and shot.

Brown was dropped into the Vosges on August 28, 1944, in command of the Jedburgh team "Alastair". But the operation, intended to involve contact with resistance fighters around St Die, was initially frustrated by the team's being landed 25 miles to the west, and separately from a group of French officers due to work with them. Brown and his two companions changed into civilian clothes and, without the identification papers essential for negotiating German checkpoints, headed eastwards on foot.

They made contact with a group of the Forces Francaises de l'Interieur (FFI) - the anti-communist resistance organisation - five days later. But air drops of arms and explosives that Brown requested failed to materialise, leading the partisans to lose confidence in SOE's intentions to support them.

When an attack by a Waffen SS unit caused the partisans to scatter, Brown withdrew up the Moselle valley, gathering such intelligence as he could until meeting American troops. Brown was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Legion of Honour for his part in these operations.

A number of Jedburgh teams, trained by Brown were dropped into the Netherlands, four in conjunction with Market Garden, the airborne operation to capture the bridges leading to the Rhine crossing at Arnhem. Their task was to enlist the aid of the Dutch resistance in gathering intelligence, organising local labour and checking out suspicious resistance members, as it was known that many Dutch resistance cells had been penetrated by German intelligence. Contacts were duly made, but loss or failure of the Jedburgh radios prevented significant exploitation of them to aid Market Garden.

In September 1944 Prince Bernhard set up a headquarters in Belgium to co-ordinate the various factions in the Dutch resistance. His efforts were treated with reserve by Allied commanders until he moved into the liberated part of the country south of the Meuse and Rhine. During the ensuing winter. SOE agents were inserted into the northern regions under German control; two Jedburgh teams Brown had trained were successfully dropped in the east, ahead of the Canadian advance.

Together with other members of Jedburgh teams returned from France, Brown volunteered for service against the Japanese with SOE in the Far East. In Ceylon, then the Headquarters of South-East Asia Command, he was appointed commanding officer of the SOE training camp near Colombo, where the Jedburgh volunteers had been concentrated. SOE groups, some former Jedburghs, were used with success in Burma, Malaya and Siam (now Thailand). Brown was appointed OBE for his services in the Far East.

After the war he returned to Lloyds Bank, eventually becoming the manager in Oxford and a Liberal town councillor in Wallington, Surrey. His wife, Audrey, predeceased him. He is survived by two sons and two daughters.

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