SOE agent, Muriel Byck (1981-1944), reminds us that while war may be a messy business, it is quite literally, also a dirty and germy business as well.
Muriel was born to French Jews in London although she was primarily raised on the continent, first Germany, then later, France. Muriel appears to have bounced back and forth between England and France for college and university, but eventually settled in England in the mid-1930’s.
Byck took on a number of different jobs, none too remarkable. She worked in a theater, then as a Red Cross volunteer, and later a secretary. The secretarial work seemed to lead into war-related work as she also became an Air Raid Precautions warden.
Muriel then transitioned into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and was promoted to an officer position. Naturally, Muriel spoke excellent French so it wasn’t too far a jump for her to eventually be recruited for the Special Operations Executive.
After training and three abortive attempts to jump into France, Muriel (Codename: Violette) arrived April 9, 1944. She performed duties as a wireless operator and trained local talent for the task.
Needless to say, the usually activities of evading German detection by moving around from time to time while working one’s tail off to aid the war effort takes its toll on anyone. However, a little over a month in country and Muriel began exhibiting signs of serious illness. She collapsed in the field and a doctor working for the Resistance diagnosed her with meningitis, a serious disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.
The problem here, is that the Germans kept sharp tabs on hospital patients, so just traipsing in the door was out of the question and sneakier means became necessary. Muriel was admitted as the niece of her uncle (read: supervisor), both of whom were evacuees from Paris. Muriel was finally admitted to a hospital but it was too late. Not six weeks after landing in France, Muriel Byck, aged 25, died in the arms of her supervisor.
The local population of Romarantin, France, where Byck was laid to rest, heralded her passing as a heroine of the Resistance and commemorated the anniversary of her death until she was moved to the Pornic War Cemetery, the burial grounds for many British servicemen who died during the war.