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Obituary: Former Hudson resident Sonia d'Artois served as undercover British age


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                    Article from the Montreal Gazette is shared with provisions of The Copyright Act

Obituary: Former Hudson resident Sonia d'Artois served as undercover British agent
Brenda Branswell, Montreal Gazette
Published on: January 2, 2015 | Last Updated: January 2, 2015 12:45 PM EST

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Sonia d’Artois had just turned 20 when she parachuted into Nazi-occupied France as an undercover British agent with the code names Blanche and Madeleine.

She was working for the Special Operations Executive, the secret British military service that supported the anti-German underground in Europe during the Second World War.

D’Artois landed in France nine days before D-Day.

In her postwar life in Canada, part of it spent in Hudson raising six children with her husband, d’Artois was reluctant to talk publicly about her daring and dangerous wartime work.

“She was a very private person,” said her daughter Nadya Murdoch.

“She really didn’t want the press at her door, because she felt that the value of her life was more as a mother and a grandmother and she didn’t want that to be the focus,” Murdoch said.

D’Artois died on Dec. 21 at the Lakeshore General Hospital at the age of 90.

“She thought that what she did was normal and she shouldn’t really be singled out … My father was also a war hero and she didn’t want to take the limelight away from him and as a woman that would have been easy to do, so she just downplayed it,” Murdoch said.

Born Sonia Butt in Kent to British parents, she was raised by her mother in the south of France, but returned to England when the war broke out. She later joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force where she did clerical work. Her mother would get into mischief at work Murdoch said, “because she was adventuresome and she liked to have fun and she was bored.”

Her mother’s lifelong interest in fashion played a role in her next wartime stint with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. “She told me that she picked the FANYs because she liked the colour of the uniform,” Murdoch said of her always well-turned-out mother.

At 19, d’Artois was interviewed by the SOE, the Special Operations Executive.

“She thought she was being interviewed to be a translator and then found herself all of a sudden being accepted into this training program and where she met my father,” Murdoch said.

Guy d’Artois, a 26-year-old paratrooper from Montreal, was part of the same group being trained to disrupt the German occupation in France with the Allied invasion looming. Their training included handling weapons and explosives and sending Morse code. (Sonia would undergo three spinal fusion surgeries in her lifetime because of an injury suffered in her parachute training.)

Sonia and Guy fell in love and married several months later in April 1944. They were supposed to go off on a mission together, but the head of an SOE section had to separate them, Murdoch said, “because if one had been caught, they could have used one against the other.”

Guy d’Artois was sent to France. “My mother said ‘Okay, well then I’m not going.’ She was angry, but then got bored and said ‘find me a mission,’ ” Murdoch said.

D’Artois worked as a courier. She and her partner on the mission also recruited and trained people in the French resistance for sabotage and intelligence operations. It was fraught with risk. She was once stopped by soldiers at a roadblock, taken to German headquarters to be interrogated, then released, according to a recent account of her life in The Daily Telegraph. She and the man in charge of the “HEADMASTER” mission, as it was dubbed, also came under fire when they drove across a bridge guarded by German soldiers. He was wounded in the shoulder. Her mother escaped injury, but later regretted that she hadn’t kept her jacket from the back seat of the car that was covered in bullet holes, Murdoch said.

Her husband remained in the military with the Royal 22nd Regiment after the war. Guy d’Artois was a member of Canada’s Distinguished Service Order and was awarded France’s Croix de Guerre with palm by General Charles de Gaulle. Sonia was made a member of the Order of the British Empire, and, about 10 years ago, received France’s Légion d’honneur.

Growing up in a military environment, the six d’Artois children knew their parents were heroes, Murdoch said. “In the military everybody knew our parents’ story,” she said.

D’Artois spelled her name “Sonya” for most of her life, but was known by her childhood nickname Tony. Her independent streak was a “huge part” of who she was, her daughter said. “Strong-willed, independent, determined and also very giving of herself.”

She volunteered at Ste. Anne’s veterans hospital after her husband’s death in 1999. For the past seven years, d’Artois shared her life with her companion, John Tozer.

“She was a fantastic mother,” Murdoch said.

“She had a sense of humour. She just was very strong.”

The Daily Telegraph recounted how d’Artois came to the defence of one of her sons when he and a friend were driving home from dinner in Como, near Hudson, and forced to stop when they were followed by three thugs. The thugs got out of their car and started to intimidate them in front of a home where d’Artois happened to be having dinner. “Hearing the commotion, she decided to take charge,” the Telegraph obituary said. “She hit one of the men in the face, smashed the car door on to his leg and held the other two until the police arrived.”

“You didn’t mess with my mother,” Murdoch said.

D’Artois was always way younger than her years, in the sense that her children’s friends looked at her as somebody they could relate to, Murdoch said. “She just had this quality about her that attracted younger people.”

D’Artois declined a number of interview requests over the years. Part of the reason her mother didn’t want to tell her story to the media was because she was so afraid of the truth being distorted, Murdoch said.

She didn’t want it to be glamorized, she said.



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Does anyone else notice that the link under the picture says "capture"?  It gave me a bit of a chuckle, given the context  ;)