Monday, August 08, 2011

Churchill's 'secret agent'

Robert Maloubier likes to tell people he is a retired accountant. That he studied finance in college, that he had a quiet life, that he stopped working at 66.

He can barely get the last words out without a chuckle that pulls up the ends of his bushy white mustache so it curls around his cheekbones.

"Oh, I love doing that," he says with a satisfied sigh. "Nobody knows about me here."

The truth is Maloubier, 88, never went to college. It's also hard to say whether he ever really retired, though he admits that when he turned 80 he had to stop rollerblading and flying his plane.

As far as a quiet life goes, he hasn't had one and he hopes it stays that way.

There are a few other things people in this quiet suburb west of Paris don't know about him: He is trained in close combat, sabotage, guerrilla tactics, parachuting and underwater warfare.

Maloubier is one of the few surviving French agents from Winston Churchill's "secret army," the Special Operations Executive created in 1940 with orders to "put Europe ablaze" and defeat Nazi forces behind enemy lines.

The British army awarded him the rank of captain and the Distinguished Service Order for his derring-do after he parachuted into his occupied homeland in 1943 and again in 1944. Maloubier's wartime feats include leading a band of French resistance fighters who blew up seven bridges in 24 hours to stall the advancing German army.

Nearly 70 years later, most French still don't know much about the role the British played in the resistance in their country.

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