Brave Dallington resident who worked undercover against the Gestapo

12th November

This week, I am glimpsing into the life of Arthur Breen – husband of french resistance fighter Michele Breen, who I wrote about before, having seen their interesting gravestone in Dallington churchyard.

Arthur Breen

I say glimpsing because in World War Two, Arthur was a member of the SOE –  the Special Operations Executive – and information on individuals is still limited.  

Arthur Breen was born in Hankou, China in 1916 to a Chinese mother and British Father.  When war broke out, he was working in Paris and later escaped over the Pyrenees to the UK via Gibraltar. He joined the RAF to fly but trained as an air gunner and in wireless telegraphy – it was during this training he met his wife-to-be Michele and was recruited into the SOE.

The SOE was formed to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, also in occupied Southeast Asia) against the Axis powers and to aid local resistance movements.

Arthur parachuted into France in 1944, dodging from house to house to avoid detection and even worked under cover as a cook for the Gestapo, whose conversations he reported to the allies.  His bravery earned him the MBE and Croix de Guerre Avec Palme.

In February 1945, he volunteered to be part of Operation Character in Burma (Myanmar) which aimed to provide intelligence and opposition to the Japanese.  Arthur’s time in the jungle earned him the Military Cross but proved to be a harrowing experience and he returned to Paris at the end of the war weighing only six stone. 

While walking in Paris during the Victory in Japan celebrations, he was spotted by chance by Michele.  The couple married in 1948.

Arthur took up employment with Assurances Generales de France in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) during which time the Breens faced extreme danger as the area underwent a time of change and conflict and they narrowly avoided being killed on several occasions.  When they were due to attend a party but changed their plans only to learn that all 40 guests had been killed in an explosion, they decided it was time to relocate away with their young family.

They lived in Milan, Paris and finally settled in Dallington (quieter than 1950s Saigon, I would imagine).  Arthur died in France in 1986 and is buried in Dallington.  

(Photo of Arthur Breen courtesy of Mark Breen)

Thank you to local historian Nicola Walker for another wonderful feature.