The Sussex Network

Patricia Cleveland-Peck on the part played by a French cafe in the Sussex Network operations during the Second World War.

It was the casual remark made in the 1980s by a friend in Paris that led to my discovery of a little-known piece of Second World War history – the Sussex Network. ‘Did I know,’ my friend asked, ‘about the café in rue Tournefort where la patronne sheltered allied airmen during the war?’

I did not, but thinking it worth investigation I set off – only to find that the café had just closed down. Disappointed and fearing that the owner had died (my friend said she had run the café since 1928) I pushed a note through the door and thought no more about it until a few weeks later when I received a letter informing me that the owner, Andrée Goubillon, was alive and well and would be happy to meet me and tell me her story.

A remarkable story it turned out to be – Madame Goubillon’s café had indeed been a safe house, not for airmen but for agents of one of M16's most secret Second World War operations, the Sussex Plan. This was conceived in 1943 when the Allies needed every bit of information about the enemy’s movements in Northern France as they planned the D-Day landings. Most intelligence-gathering networks including SOE and French Intelligence had, by this time, been infiltrated or overrun and although the Allies had cracked the German codes, and by destroying the telephone system, had forced the enemy to communicate by wireless, there was always the fear that the Germans might change the ciphers just before the invasion.

Thus it was decided to create an entirely fresh network using agents new to clandestine work. Another innovation was to be the use of the S-phone, or ‘phonie’, a device through which the operator could communicate directly with a plane hovering 10,000 feet above.     

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