Lamplugh and District Heritage Society: A Most Remarkable Woman – a talk by Jacqueline Moore and Joseph Ritson

Report by Alan Cleaver

A heroine’s life revealed: The story of Maud Olga Baudot

A heroine’s life revealed: The story of Maud Olga Baudot

OVER 40 people were given a most interesting talk on this “remarkable” woman,a heroine in the French Resistance in World War 2 at the last meeting of Lamplugh and District Heritage Society.

Her name is Maud Olga Baudot de Rouville, known to all as Olga. She was born in Paris in 1891, here father being a French lawyer and her mother Irish enabling her to be bi-lingual.

On leaving school she became a nurse and taught English in her spare time.

Following the outbreak of war she joined the French Army corps.

Her first taste of action was the Evacuation at Dunkirk.

The soldiers captured were marched away from the coast, from one town to another.

She decided to give what help she could especially trying to make them understood.

In one town her description is “We were 40,000 refugees in a town of 5,000 inhabitants. During those 2 weeks I ate almost nothing and gave everything”.

In Lille the wounded prisoners were put in a makeshift hospital, part of the Catholic University.

Olga rolled up her sleeves and helped the British doctors who were also POW’s.

Her work earned her great respect from the allied servicemen and strong friendships were formed, some of which carried on, long after the war ended.

Two of the notable people she kept in contact with were Dr John Heslop, a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps who was awarded the MC and Captain Michael Valentine Paul Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.

Captain Fleming died of gangrene after having his leg amputated and is buried in Lille cemetery.

Dr John Heslop’s parents lived at High Dyke, near Cockermouth.

At this time Dr Heslop and his colleague Dr Kimbell asked if they could put her in touch with the British Intelligence Service to assist with escape and evasion, she did not hesitate.

This was highly dangerous work, if she was captured by the Gestapo execution would surely follow.

The escape route was known as the PAT line after PAT O’Leary, it ran from Lille, to Paris, to Marseille, to Barcelona and on to Gibraltar.

She worked alongside various other operators, trust being of the essence.

One operator became a double agent, his treachery leading to 65 of Olga,s fellow agents being arrested and imprisoned, some executed.

Olga herself was more than likely betrayed and the German’s in their determination to capture her are reported to have searched every significant town in occupied France.

She moved to a “safe” house in Tolouse where she helped escapees including Charles de Gaulle’s nephew and Flight Sergeant Harry McWilliams from Whitehaven, who went on to resume active service.

He spoke fondly of her and later became a teacher at St Beghs school. Again the Gestapo closed in and she decided to flee to Switzerland.

However having no papers or money she decided to get off the train in Northern France where she witnessed the Vercors massacre. She fled to the mountains to save herself until mid August 1944.

She then returned to Lille after the war ended, where she found that the Germans had wrecked everything she owned.

At this time,being practically penniless and homeless, she contacted some of the POWs and applied for a visa to come to England.

A visa to come to England after the war were hard to obtain and she asked for help off her friend Pat O’Leary.

He arranged for her to be interviewed by MI 9 and she was given a temporary visa. Her first place to stay was in Berkshire, with the parents of a prisoner she had befriended, then with Dr Kimbell and his wife in London.

A few weeks later she arrived in Cumberland, staying at High Dyke with Dr Heslop and his family.

Her visa was running out and a letter to No 10 Downing Street was to no avail. Back in France Pat was desperately trying to get some form of recognition for Olga in order for her to receive a permanent visa.

Pat recommended her for the Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star. Back in England Dr Heslop with the help of local MP Fred Peart he was able to get Olga a visa.

She was soon back at High Dyke. Things didn’t run smoothly and Dr Heslop, as well as running the farm had to keep the peace between Olga and his wife.

Dr Heslop’s son Tim remembers her “being a formidable woman who filled the room”. She stayed about 6 months before deciding to leave for Ireland to trace her heritage there.

She left in April 1947 for what the Heslop’s thought to be a short stay as she left all her possessions behind. Her nurses uniform, nursing certificates, photos,letters and other personal possessions she had struggled to keep all through the war.

No one knows why she didn’t return and she died in Quimper, France on December 9th 1979.

“A truly Remarkable Woman”.

The Society’s next talk is “A History of Knickers” by Pat Martin on Thursday, May 26th at 7.30pm at Lamplugh Village Hall.