Having made tenuous, indirect contact with French partisans in the area of Saint-Cerneuf-du-Bois, a village in the theoretically free Vichy zone of France but conveniently close to the border with the occupied zone, the Special Operations Executive had concluded that the region could make an ideal landing zone for providing aid to the resistance.
On the 9th May 1941 Emile Dubois, Lt. Douglas Hemsbrook, and Patricia Wilberforce were briefed by the SOE. They were chosen to form the core of the ANTIQUARIAN network, since each had specialist capabilities which would be useful both to the partisans and to future agents parachuted into the drop zone. The thinking was that Dubois’ erratic scientific training would make him an ideal maker of bombs, munitions, and other devices of sabotage, warfare and mayhem to be used against the Nazi machinery, whilst Wilberforce had the advantage of having all the right skills to be a propagandist and negotiator whilst at the same time being a decidedly unlikely spy. Hemsbrook rounded off the group’s specialist capabilities with his medical knowledge. The mission briefing given by the SOE is fairly clear that the specialists’ tasks were to gather intelligence and prepare the ground for additional personnel, rather than to immediately commence sabotage, assassination, or other operations against the occupation forces, though the possibility was left open for the SOE to provide additional orders later on.
On the evening of the 10th May, N arranged for the investigators to be transported to his headquarters near Whitehall for a discussion. N, in fact, greeted them with champagne to celebrate a minor victory for Network N; propaganda cooked up by Patricia and fed to the Germans via the “Double Cross” network of turned agents had succeeded in convincing Rudolf Hess of the occult necessity of flying to Scotland to begin peace talks. N had not merely invited the group down for a party, however; there was a mission directly related to Network N’s interests that happened to coincide with the establishment of ANTIQUARIAN. Lionel Malo, a German antiquarian of aristocratic background, had left Germany due to his disagreements with the Nazi regime and had been corresponding with N during his journeys in exile. In 1938, he arrived in Saint-Cerneuf and had sent a couple of letter suggesting he had been making progress in an investigation of the local abbey’s secret history. Malo’s letter’s had abruptly ceased after this; N asked the party to try and ascertain what had happened to Malo.
The night of Sunday 11th May was a full moon, during which time the drop attempt was made. The partisans had selected a field close to the local woodland for a landing site and had built bonfires to help guide the parachutists. Lt. Hemsbrook was able to land in the field, but both Dubois and Wilberforce’s parachutes went off-course and ended up landing in the periphery of the forest; both were able to find their way into the field without incident, and soon the group had made contact with the French partisans…