Whitehaven Archive Centre Celebrates ‘A most remarkable woman’

By Rebecca Muncaster

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Whitehaven Archive assistant Jacqueline Moore holds a uniform that belonged to French Resistance agent and nurse, Maud ‘Olga’ Baudot de Rouville.

THE wartime life of French Resistance agent and nurse, Maud ‘Olga’ Baudot de Rouville, was celebrated at Whitehaven Archive Centre.

The exhibition took place from the beginning December to the end of January.

The exhibition, called ‘A Most Remarkable Woman’, revealed the original documents and artefacts of Olga (1891-1979) and fleshed out her contributions during the Second World War.

Olga – under the nom de guerre of ‘Thérèse Martin’ – assumed the role as both Resistance agent and nurse.
Her daring efforts earned her the Croix de Guerre award in 1947 for her service in the ‘PAT’ escape line in Northern France.

The exhibition had international, national and local significance as she was credited for her help in the escape of many British servicemen.

The collection itself has a surprising backstory. It was deposited at Whitehaven Archive Centre in the late 1980’s by the Heslop family of Cockermouth.

The reason Olga’s belongings were in their possession is due to the fact that she assisted the Royal Army Medical Corps, nursing injured service men, in the aftermath of the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940.

One of the doctors from the unit was Dr Heslop. After the war, Olga came to stay with him and his family at their farm on the outskirts of Cockermouth.

She left her belongings behind when she left for Ireland.

As well as the connection to the Heslop family, Olga also secured the safety of a local RAF pilot. She helped Flight Sergeant Harry McWilliams, of Whitehaven, evade capture.

McWilliams took refuge at Olga’s home in Toulouse and then escaped safely back to England.

Jacqueline Moore, who researched and put together the exhibition, said that ‘the purpose of the exhibition was to get Olga’s story out there.

‘She needs to be recognised for the amazing work she did.’

The exhibition took three years to complete.

It was a lengthy process, partly because a proportion of the documents were in French.
The documents were transcribed by an archive volunteer, Joseph Ritson, who is also an expert in the history of the World Wars.

The exhibition went above and beyond in terms of research. Many of the individuals named in documents were referred to by war pseudonyms.

The exhibition revealed the true identities and stories of these individuals.

Among these individuals was Pat O’Leary, whose real name was Dr Albert Guerisse.

Pat was the leader of the famous PAT Line, an escape line dubbed after him. Due to his courageous efforts during the war, he received 35 decorations which included the George Cross.

Other interesting characters include Françoise Dissard, real name Marie Louise Dissard, an eccentric elderly woman who took leadership of PAT Line when Pat was arrested by the Gestapo, and Harold Cole, who betrayed many resistance line workers and was branded the ‘worst traitor of the war’.

As well as documents, the collection contains some interesting artefacts.

These included a Silk Escape Map, which was given to airmen to help them evade capture, and a gold cigarette case.

The case belonged to Lt Charles Madden, a man Olga had nursed in Lille.

Jacqueline attributes the success of the exhibition to the ‘fantastic story’ told. She explained that ‘this was a single woman, who in 1940 was 49 years of age, and who gave everything to help the allied service men.  If captured, she could have been executed, as many of her close resistance workers were.’  Olga’s life from when she left Cumberland in 1947 until her death in 1979 remains unknown. Jacqueline said: “All our efforts to try and find out what she done in this period have drawn a blank.
Hopefully, the more publicity her story gets someone may come forward with some information.”

The collection can be viewed by anyone as long as they hold a valid County Archive Research Ticket.

To obtain a ticket, you will need to present official proof of address and signature (for example a driving licence) at the front desk and a ticket will be issued immediately.

The collection reference is YDX 207.