Lt. ARTHUR STAGGS.

SOE Wireless operator : Hero of the French Resistance

B2_Radio.gif (19781 bytes)  Home station UK.JPG (11384 bytes)  

                                        Suitcase Radio Type 3 Mk2                         S.O.E.  Home Station U.K.      S.O.E. agent de Guy.  Lille 1943.
                                Listen to Athur`s radio signal.(de Guy)
Arthur awarded the Freedom of Lille , 29th November 1998. (link)      Arthur awarded  La Legion d'Honneur. Nov 14th 2006.
 

 

Name :Lt. Arthur Albert George STAGGS .

DOB : 17.11.1912

Birthplace : London, by Bow

Parents : English

 

Father : Thames Sailing Barge Skipper

 

 

 

 

Background Information :

 

Mother died when Arthur was a toddler - he was only two years old.

 

Father joined the Royal Engineers in 1914 and fought in France.

 

Father re-married - a French lady who spoke no English.

 

Arthur spent a year in France and attended an Ecole Maternelle - became bilingual.

Arthur returned to England and went to a Catholic School at Grays in Essex until December 1925.

 

The family then moved to Roubaix near Lille and Mr Staggs snr. joined a Bradford based firm called Perrott & Perrott as the engineer.

 

Arthur started work in 1926 (aged 13) as an apprentice Coremaker in the foundry. His next job was in a wool-mill as a wool-sorter and then as a spinner. The "Chômage" or short-time was looming.

 

Arthur changed firms to McCormick and Deering in Croix-Wasquehal in Nord by which time the family was living in Wasquehal. Arthur started as a labourer but attended the firm’s night-school classes for 3 years studying algebra, draughtsmanship etc. He qualified as a Quality Inspector for the forge - malleable, soft, hard iron. This was the time of the Depression and the French Government introduced a new law to reduce the foreign labour force by 35%. Arthur’s work-permit was withdrawn by the Authorities. Arthur’s father knew the Head of Perrott & Perrott and this man followed Arthur’s progress with interest and found a loop-hole to enable Arthur to continue working in France. The firm was entitled to have a full-time interpreter which gave Arthur some valuable experience.

 

 

In September 1939, Arthur contacted the British Consul in Lille and then returned to his grandmother’s in Grays by the end of the week that the War started. The Sunday papers advertised for linguists, Arthur applied and was interviewed at Ash Vale, Aldershot by Lord Northesk. He passed the oral and written papers. A week later he had his medical in Romford and then went to Mychett Barracks in Aldershot. Arthur joined the Corps of Military Police No. 7687530 as Field Security at Sheerness in Kent. Here, Arthur was put in charge of interviewing about 300 French troops who were evacuated with the British at Dunkirk in June 1940. the aim was to identify Fifth Columnists - about 5 or 6 were found.

 

Arthur was then moved to the Intelligence Corps at Winchester where he was put in charge of stores. He had interviews with MI5 & MI6 and was moved to Pembroke College at Oxford where he was called many times for verification concerning French roads, towns, etc. One day when giving more information when he was told to report to the War Office in Whitehall.

 

 

Volunteering for service in ‘F Section’ of SOE

 

Arthur was interviewed in French by SOE’s recruiting officer, Major Maurice Gielgud (brother of John) and then asked would he volunteer for very hazardous service in occupied France? His reply was, "I didn’t join the forces to be in charge of stores!"

 

Arthur soon realised what was to become involved with his role in SOE when the training began :-

 

Initial training at Wanborough Manor ( 4 weeks)

 

Parachute training at Ringway, Manchester ( 2 weeks)

 

Commando and Morse Code Training at Inverailort House, Arisaig (6-7 weeks)

 

Wireless training at Thame Park Radio School (12-13 weeks)

The radio training included making transmissions from North Berwick in Scotland. This involved three two-week trials to ascertain accuracy and were made back to base. Albert’s third visit was made on 2nd November 1942, on the 18th he was in France.

 

SOE Mission

 

Position : Wireless Operator

Nom de guerre : Albert FOULON (Bébert)

Codename : Guy

Reseau : FARMER

Organiser : Michael TROTOBAS (Sylvestre)

Area of Operation : Lille

Main effect : Railway sabotage

Active Dates : 18.11.42 - Liberation (apart from 2 months captivity)

Departure : Took off from Tempsford - 17.11.42 (Arthur’s 30th birthday)

Accompanied by : Michael Trotobas and Gustave Bieler (Guy - MUSICIAN)

Parachuted to : Montargis, ‘Blind’

Reception : "Safe house" at Passy, Paris arranged by MONKEYPUZZLE

Arrested : December 1943

Released : February 1944

Fate : Over-run - September 1944

 

 

 

 

Arthur had a major problem on arrival - the radio was faulty! It was established by a qualified technician that Arthur knew in St Erme, that one of the components had been incorrectly fitted. Violette Szabo brought a new one - Arthur collected it from Tours. His journey was hazardous - Lille to Paris, where he stayed one night, then on to Tours and back to Lille via Paris.

 

Transporting the radio set around France was a very risky operation.

 

There were three episodes worth relating:-

1 Arthur was searched on a train journey from Lille to St Erme in December 1942. Douaniers searched train and did not accept Arthur’s explanation that the equipment was a device used for synchronising the sound for "talkie" films. Using some quick thinking, Arthur offered a bribe of 1000FF and the threat of being shot if he was followed. The bribe was accepted and Arthur left the train safely at the next station. (See Appendix)

 

2 A German officer got talking to Arthur at Laon in December 1942. Cleverly, Arthur attached himself to the officer on the journey and when the bus in was searched, the field-gendarmes avoided searching where Arthur and the officer were.

 

3 When cycling from Olhain to Roubaix on the back of the cycle was the radio hidden under some farm produce - meat and eggs. Arthur was stopped by a German patrol and the bike examined but the radio was not found.

 

Arthur tried to disguise his radio and used medical phials on the top - a clever idea as they were fragile too! Arthur always hid the radio well away from the safe house.

 

 

Arthur’s Poem : a code used when contacting London or receiving messages:-

 

For You Alone

However busy I may be

Whenever we’re apart

There’s still a shine of memory

Deep down within my heart

Where I preserve your image dear

Forever to remain

And thoughts of you bring constant cheer

Until we meet again.

 

Arthur had fluent French and could even speak the local patois. He also had some excellent contacts from his pre-war years in the Roubaix area. He became especially friendly with Claude BAGEIN who was the leader of a local group of resistance fighters. FARMER was proficient at sabotage - especially on the Lens - Béthune railway line with 15-20 derailments per week, canal locks and the electric tractors used to tow barges.

On 18th November 1943, Michael Trotobas was killed in a raid on a "safe-house" following a betrayal.

 

Arthur was extremely careful with hiding his wireless set and avoiding the detector vans by posting ‘look-outs’. If the power was suddenly switched off, the transmitter was hidden and Arthur left the vicinity very rapidly.

 

 

Arthur’s Arrest

One night in December 1943, Arthur was at Claude’s house (125 Boulevard de Metz, Roubaix) awaiting the return of a group of resistance fighters who were on a raid at the local town hall to steal ration coupons for use on the black market. There was a knock on the door so as normal, Arthur hid in a pantry so that he would not be seen by others. However, it was the Gestapo, complete with sub-machine guns, at the door. Arthur quickly realised that the Germans would search the house, so he pretended he had been looking for some wine and cheese and came out of the pantry with the food and drink. He tried to look all innocent but sadly Arthur and Claude were arrested. Arthur still has deformed ribs as the result of a rifle-butt breaking a few ribs on his arrest.

 

Arthur’s immediate concern was that there was a British army compass in the house but fortunately it was not found. In addition in his cell that first night, Arthur realised that he had some photographs of friends that might have been incriminating so Arthur tore them into pieces and ate them! Arthur was subjected to torture during interrogations on most days during the first month and he could hear the execution of other prisoners. However, after two months of confinement, Arthur was released. His meticulous planning and highly secure cover-story had paid off.

So for lack of any tangible evidence, Arthur was released in February 1944. As a lovely anecdote, on his release Arthur asked the Gestapo officer for the reason for his arrest and captivity. The reply was delivered with a laugh - "We thought that you were a British parachutist!!" (Arthur would have loved to have found that same officer after the war and told him he was right!) Claude was also released.

 

Initially Arthur assumed that the Gestapo had followed a tip-off and were the same team that found Trotobas but he found out subsequently that it was a different group. Arthur believes that had the two groups compared notes, he would not have survived!

 

 

February to September 1944

After his release, Arthur lost touch with SOE and became known as Capitaine Bébert in charge of the FFI in Aire sur la Lys. There was little time to organise a large area - from Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne on the coast down to Béthune - which he did to the best of his ability.

 

He took an active part in the work of the local resistance group - raids on V1 launch sites etc. in the Lys region. Arthur’s men put sand in fuel-boxes, distorted the ailerons, put acid on connections. He almost lost his life during a bombing raid by American Marauders.

 

After the Normandy landings, the FFI tried to prevent the Germans from blowing-up bridges to facilitate the Allies progress towards the Low Countries. Arthur lost three trying to remove land-mines on canal bridges etc.

 

After the Germans had left, the Commissaire de Police gave Arthur a warning that he was under threat of execution and gave him a revolver and ammunition. This compelled him to leave and Arthur now believes this was intentional to get him out of France.

 

 

 

France is Liberated

In September 1944, Arthur travelled to Paris and met up with some SOE colleagues at the Hotel Cecil where Vera Atkins’ first words to Arthur were, "We thought you were dead!" (A realistic supposition, given that Arthur had been captured 9 months earlier by the Gestapo). Arthur was escorted back to England by plane with a Major Hamilton.

 

Arthur married Elizabeth (née Wickson) and daughter Anne was born in 1946.

 

 

Post War

Arthur returned to Grays in Essex and started work at the International Harvester Company in City Road, London. In 1946 Arthur was compelled to cease work due to nervous exhaustion. He saw a psychologist and a psychiatrist. He was ordered to take light open-air work whilst his nervous problems continued for the next seven years.

 

In 1961, Arthur and family were invited back to Roubaix for a visit to see his father and friends in Croix-Wasquehal. Arthur was given a reception by the local residents and other high officials in Roubaix. There was a medals ceremony and he was given the title of ‘Adopted Roubaisian’. To the present day, Arthur keeps in touch with friends from Lille and the Pas de Calais, including the widow of Claude Bagein who sadly died of natural causes six months after the war ended.

 

Arthur Staggs : SOE Wireless Operator- FARMER Network

 

 

My Journey from Lille to St Erme

 

My first encounter was whilst travelling on the train (le Digonnais) with the radio transmitter. I was going from Lille to St Erme Laon near Amiens to get in touch with a qualified radio technician as I was having trouble with the set that I had brought from England. We stopped at Douai, this station was reckoned to be a checking point frontier-wise. This soon became apparent by the presence of two plain clothes officers. They were very thorough. I had put the case containing the radio on the luggage rack and left to go to the toilets hoping that somehow they might overlook it. But no, there was a loud knock on the toilet door ordering me out. I angrily answered, "Is one not allowed to go to the toilet?" I emerged from the toilet and returned to the compartment where the second officer was waiting. They asked what the case was, to which I replied that it was equipment for synchronising talkie films. The douaniers were not convinced. As there were other people in the compartment I requested that we discuss the matter elsewhere. We proceeded to the end of the corridor. By this time I was getting nowhere, so the last resort was to hope that they were patriotic. I came straight out with it. "You are Frenchmen aren’t you? So am I. How about 1000FF each." They looked at each other and accepted this offer. By this time the train was approaching the next stop so I said to them that I was getting off. I showed the officers the butt of my revolver tucked into my belt and threatened them I’d shoot if they followed me.

 

I left the train with my transmitter and not surprisingly, no one followed. I deposited my set at the left-luggage office which I did after asking that it be put out of the harm’s way on the top shelf as it contained medical glass phials. The requested was granted! On leaving the station I made enquiries about bus services to St Erme. After ascertaining times and place of departures, I found I had plenty of time, so I proceeded to an estaminet for a coffee and rum (this being obtainable off the rations.) When the time drew near for the bus departure, I cautiously returned to the station but fortunately the case was in exactly the same position as it had been in the first place. So I went ahead and retrieved it and then went to the bus stop. It was there that a voice from behind me said, "Is this the bus for St Erme?" I turned round and looked straight at a German officer (Hauptmann) to his question I replied, "No, it is this one." His reply was that he was told the next departure bay from mine. My answer to this was that I should know which one, as I was going in the St Erme direction and that my bus was the right one. With this the German officer was most grateful and offered me a cigarette. I then thought that as long as I kept in conversation with him, the better it would be for me. So this I did. We boarded the bus together and sat side by side talking about the weather and Germany - Did they have much snow? (For this was December 1942) etc.

 

The person I was to meet in St Erme was a wine and champagne maker. He was a noted person by the name of Chappelet. However, I was very late arriving at his home and he expected me for lunch. I made my apologies with a résumé of what had happened on the train. To which his reply was that I was telling a tall story. He was very annoyed. We had lunch and then the door bell rang. My host answered the door and it was the radio technician. He returned with the visitor to introduce me. The visitor exclaimed, "What you! I thought that when you did not return to the compartment on the train, that you were a goner!" What a small world. The man I had come to see had been on the same train and even in the same carriage!

 

 

CLAUDE BAGEIN

 

As remembered by Arthur Staggs

 

Claude Bagein was a young man of 22 years of age when we met. He had married for only short time to Rose (née CORNEIL) who came from Libercourt, Nord where her mother Mme Anna Corneil had a small dairy farm. Mme Corneil helped us in many ways, even providing shelter when needed although the Germans called for eggs, butter etc. She was a true patriot.

 

Claude had no military training but made up for it with his hatred towards the enemy. I trained Claude in many ways. It was worth it as it turned out! When we were arrested and eventually released, Claude had "Le sang-froid" without which I would not be here to relate these details. On our release from the Loos Prison we parted. Our friendship remained but I had to leave the area to start activities in the Pas de Calais where I became Capitaine Bébert meeting Claude now and again.

 

D-Day arrived and Claude was busy in his area which was in the Dunkirk vicinity. The Germans had dug-in and the British were having difficulties. Claude offered his services which were accepted. However, the next news that I had of Claude was that he was decorated by the British for bravery in dislodging the Germans.

 

Claude was a courageous friend in whom I had complete trust. My regret to this day is the such a "brave gars" should have had such a short life as he died of natural causes six months after the end of the war. Claude was a dear friend.

End

File courtesy of David Harrison . SOE UK .

 

Arthur latest poem 1996

 

YESTERDAY’S

It was only yesterday it seems to me!

I am Twenty One today did I say!

I am free! To go my way

But today as yesterday twenty one

is now a long! Long! Way away of

yesterdays!

All my yesterday’s I remember today

Good and bad are still everyday!

To remember always! Tomorrow will be

Today’s yesterday! Maybe.

How many more tomorrow’s will become yesterdays

Not so many I dare say

I did have many yesterday’s

Not so for many of my comrades

who gave their future of yesterdays away

For Peace Today.

Arthur's motto.

Fate is a mate, he is never late

He is always by your side no matter which door you go through,

He will always be with you .

He is your destiny.

Arthur Staggs Lt. Special Operations Executive 1940 - 1946

Hero of the French Resistance F Section SOE

(Published by the guild of poetry)

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