Moondrop to Gascony
If anyone had told me that I would spend the summer of 1943 being timed at assault courses, tapping Morse messages on a dummy key, shooting at moving pieces of cardboard, crawling across the countryside and blowing up mock targets, I would have shrugged my shoulders with disbelief.
Only four years earlier, Anne-Marie Walters had been completing her studies and enjoying life as a young adult. Her life changed dramatically at the outbreak of hostilities in Europe when her family left Geneva, where her father had been the Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations, moving across the channel to the relative safety of England, which was rapidly mobilizing for the war which ensued. Enlisting as an officer in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, Anne-Marie was subsequently recruited into the Special Operations Executive and trained for service in occupied France.
She dropped by parachute into the Armagnac area of southwestern France in January 1944 to become a courier for George Starr’s Wheelwright circuit, the resistance network which encompassed a region north of the Pyrenees to include Toulouse and Bordeaux. During the next seven months Anne-Marie carried messages around the region, often travelling on foot or by bicycle. She also received air drops, delivered explosives, and arranged the escape of downed airmen. Returning to England, she set off a final time on foot across the Pyrenees to Spain, to deliver urgent despatches for London.
These extraordinary adventures are recounted in vivid detail in Anne-Marie's memoirs, published soon after the end of the war. Her book, Moondrop to Gascony, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1947. It is a gripping tale of adventures and suspense, offering a first-hand account of her experiences with Starr, together with other members of the resistance. Having been published so soon after the cessation of hostilities, all of the main characters were identified in the book only by their code names. Anne-Marie Walters was known as Colette.
Moondrop to Gascony has been released in a new edition published by Moho Books. The new edition includes an introduction, postscript and added details compiled by David Hewson. Hewson identifies the people in the book who were originally referred to only by their code names. He provides biographical notes for these characters and reveals what happened to Anne-Marie at the end of the war. David Hewson has spent considerable time living in southwestern France, which gave him the opportunity to retrace many of the journeys made by Anne-Marie Walters during her time with the resistance, meeting with a great number of people who still remember her from this period. The new edition of Moondrop to Gascony also includes a foreword by the venerable Professor M R D Foot, himself a former SOE officer and widely respected as the doyen of British war historians.
After the war, Anne-Marie was awarded the MBE (Civil list) for her service in occupied France and, from France, she received the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Reconnaissance Française. Anne-Marie married her childhood friend, Jean-Claude Comert. Together, they spent several years in New York before moving to Paris in 1955 where Anne-Marie worked as a translator and as a sub-editor at France-Soir. They later moved to Spain where she set up a publishing agency. Anne-Marie died in France in 1998 at the age of 75 and is survived by her two children, Jean-Pierre and Sophie.
An excerpt from Moondrop to Gascony is available from the publisher Moho Books.