The diminutive heroine buried in Dallington
The epitaph on a fairly recent gravestone in Dallington Churchyard has always interested me and I knew it would make a great research project – the brief detail hinted at such an amazing life.
Claude Michele Wattebled de Ducla was born outside Bordeaux in 1922. When France was occupied in 1940, Michele was being educated at the Convent of the Assumption in Kensington Square, London and she found herself cut off from her parents and siblings back at home.
Immediately, Michele offered to join General De Gaulle’s Free French Forces but was initially refused due to her age and diminutive stature (she was 5ft 1”), however, her persistence paid off and by 1942 she was being trained by Special Forces at Thame Park in Oxfordshire to parachute, carry out armed combat and morse code wireless telegraphy. It was here she met her future husband Arthur Breen.
In 1944, aged only 22, Michele parachuted into Rochefort (licensed to carry a revolver). She was tasked with liaising between US Forces and the French Resistence which she did so effectively and in such perilous circumstances, it later earned her the US Bronze Star Medal.
In 1945, she was to sadly learn that her Father had died 5 years previously in the evacuation of Paris although she was to happily reunite with her remaining family.
After the war, she married Arthur Breen who she was reunited with by accident. To avoid them never being parted again after their wartime separation, Michele became a British citizen (to the disapproval of her family). If they were ever called on again during a conflict they would at least be serving together.
They lived in Saigon, Milan and Paris before settling in Dallington.
According to press reports, in her 70’s, Michele was burgled (whilst living at Dallington) but was not afraid. She confided to the police and her Grandchildren that she had been trained to be able to ‘kill silently’ in the War and could have easily disarmed the intruder.
Another inspiring and amazing woman, Michele died in 2015 aged 94.
Thank you to Nicola Walker for another wonderful insight into a local resident.