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VE Day 2020: World War Two heroine sent messages for victory

PUBLISHED: 09:02 08 May 2020

The peace street parties went on for weeks. Daubeney Road, 1945. Picture: Hackney Archives.

The peace street parties went on for weeks. Daubeney Road, 1945. Picture: Hackney Archives.

Hackney Archives

Before saving Shoreditch’s Mildmay Hospital and setting it up as the world’s first AIDS hospice in the 1980s Helen Taylor Thompson helped save countless lives by sending coded messages to secret agents during the second world war.

World War II veteran and former Chair of Mildmay hospital Helen Taylor-Thompson. Picture: Mildmay HospitalWorld War II veteran and former Chair of Mildmay hospital Helen Taylor-Thompson. Picture: Mildmay Hospital

The world war II veteran seems unfazed by the Covid-19 pandemic which has meant public celebrations commemorating VE day on its 75th anniversary have been cancelled.

She told the Gazette: “It’s really rather like a fog over you all the time but we’ll come out of it – we have before [and] we’ll do it again.”

At nineteen Helen signed the official secrets act in a room above an Italian restaurant one year after joining the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry or FANYs as they were called - an all-female registered charity formed in 1907 involved in nursing and intelligence during the war.

Before signing an officer told her she could be hung for treason if she spoke about her work.

The front page of the Gazette after VE day. It reads: The front page of the Gazette after VE day. It reads: "After the trials and horrors of nearly six years of war, the people of North-East and East London still know how to rejoice. When on Monday evening the news was announced of the complete surrender of Germany thousands of people came into the streets spontaneously to celebrate the memorable and unforgettable occasion.. Picture: Hackney Archives

One of Helen’s first jobs involved sending aircraft over to France with people, ammunition and money.

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She said: “I’ll never forget. I was told to get about a quarter of a million and that went over to France to some agent.

The safe was about the size of a large freezer. It was enormous!

I opened it up and it was absolutely jam packed – full of counterfeit money made in England.”

Helen continued: “I’ve never seen so much money in my life. They always had to have a lot of money because, you see, the agents couldn’t earn over in France and had to live virtually on the black market.

The 95 year-old also remembers sending unbreakable coded messages to agents telling them about the Normandy landings on D-Day.

“Everybody was excited because we’d sent over the messages to tell them we were going to land. That night was really busy. All of the agents were ready to blow up bridges, roads and apparently we stopped several panzer divisions. I don’t remember how many lives we saved or days.”

A panzer was a German armoured fighting vehicle and the D-day operation, the largest sea borne invasion in history, laid the foundations of the allied victory on the western front setting in motion the beginning of the end of the second world war.


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