André Hue

SOE agent who told his story in 'The Next Moon'
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The Independent Online

André Hunter Alfred Hue, soldier and businessman: born Swansea, Glamorgan 7 December 1923; DSO 1944; married 1957 Maureen Taylor (one daughter); died Chichester, West Sussex 11 January 2005.

André Hue worked as a spy in his teens, and as a saboteur before he was 20, in the war against Hitler.

Half-Welsh, half-French by origin, he was born in Swansea, spent his schooldays at Le Havre and was brought up bilingual. His father died when he was 14, leaving no great fortune. When the Second World War began, Hue was serving as a ship's boy in the French mercantile marine. In June 1940 his ship was sunk off La Rochelle by a mine; the explosion caught him while he was having a shower. He got ashore, still stark naked, was looked after by the Croix Rouge, and cast up as a railway-station clerk at Guer in east Brittany.

Aged 15, he did not care for what he could see of Nazi occupation. Luck brought him in touch with a Special Operations Executive organiser, François Vallée of the "Parson" circuit, for whom he provided details of goods-train timetables, thus enabling RAF attacks on munitions for the Wehrmacht. Within a year, Guer got too hot to hold him; he moved to a different branch of resistance, helping to hide airmen escaping from the Germans until they could be smuggled out of Brittany in small boats.

On one of these boats he crossed to England himself, and became a full-scale SOE agent, attending paramilitary, parachute and subversive training schools. He joined one of several SAS parties which jumped into France late on 5 June 1944, on the night the main Normandy invasion of France began (I saw him emplane in his Stirling).

He was one of the very first men to reach French soil. Accident separated him from the rest of his stick; he had several brushes with the enemy in the small hours before regaining touch with his friends. His task was to be the link man, in the Morbihan department, between the French parachute battalion, part of the SAS brigade, that was dropped piecemeal into Brittany that June and the resistance forces on the ground.

He had a hard time of it, for he was in plain clothes, and had to take care not to be seen by the wrong people talking to his SAS friends, who were in uniform. He was nimble and discreet enough to keep out of the Gestapo's tendrils, though they several times got close to him.

Once they caught five of his SAS companions, whom they shot on the spot, with 17 French civilians who were close by; he was 50 yards away, and escaped. Once they trapped him in a barn full of hay, which they set on fire; even that he escaped. He provided wireless contact between south Brittany and England, arranging for the safe dropping of men, arms, explosives, money and clothing. The money was especially useful to Colonel Bourgoin, the one-armed SAS commander, who used it to buy food.

That single SAS battalion secured, over a single early August night, most villages in Brittany, leaving the way clear for American forces to advance on the great port of Brest, which was urgently needed to supply the armies that were to advance into Germany. Hue's help in turn was indispensable to SAS. He was safely overrun, and volunteered at once for a further SOE mission, to a fighting circuit near Nevers, in Burgundy, which he helped to keep supplied for what little of the war was left to be fought in France. A DSO awarded before he came of age had been well earned.

He then volunteered again, to serve in the Far East. He was parachuted into Burma, well behind the Japanese lines, to work with guerrillas, and was all but captured on his dropping zone. He then spent nearly a month in the jungle, living very rough indeed, before being rescued.

After the war, which he ended in the rank of major, he served in the British army in Palestine in the closing years of the mandate, and then in Cyprus, before moving to be British military attaché in Cambodia in 1954-55. Among the British embassy staff in Phnom Penh he met his future wife, Maureen, who supported him through a whole series of service and business postings: in several parts of the Far East, working for MI6, and then in Paraguay and Senegal, where he worked for British-American Tobacco after he resigned from the service in 1967. He went on, via Malawi, to a series of business appointments in France, and settled at Chichester in Sussex in 1980.

His was not a character that could retire easily from activity; he became a local councillor, still anxious to busy himself in improving his companions' lot. He had made copious notes about his wartime adventures while on leave at the end of the war; and he found an ideal editor, Colonel Ewen Southby- Tailyour, Royal Marines, who had had clandestine experience himself in the Falklands and, through writing the life of "Blondie" Hasler, knew something of French resistance. Their book, The Next Moon (2004), is one of the most vivid to have come out of that heroic story.

But Alzheimer's disease had caught up with Hue; he became less and less able to cope with the surroundings he had always mastered, and faded away in hospital. His wife laid a copy of the book on his knee, and hoped he understood what it was.

M. R. D. Foot