Recruited: May 1943
Role: Circuit Organiser (F Section)
Fate: Wounded in action, survived
George Francis Hiller was born in Paris on 15 December 1916, the son of a British father and French mother, and was educated at the Lycée Janson de Sailly in Paris, and Exeter College, Oxford. He pursued a diplomatic career, and was a consular officer at the outbreak of war. Taking a junior commission in the Reconnaissance Corps, he was recommended to SOE and passed to its French section, which he joined in May 1943.
A quiet, thoughtful character with a cool and confident persona, Hiller was selected for the job of organiser, and in January 1944 he was parachuted with wireless operator Cyril Watney into the Lot in south-western France. His objective was to begin FOOTMAN, a new circuit which would support a socialist leader, Jean Vincent (known as 'Colonel Vény'), who had already contacted another SOE agent, Harry Peulevé, in nearby Corrèze. Hiller's first action, the sabotage of the Ratier aircraft works in Figeac, was one of F Section's biggest successes and put the factory out of action for months, but Hiller soon ran into problems which would draw much more on his skills as a diplomat.
Colonel Vény had boasted of having a large maquis force, but Hiller was dismayed to find virtually no sign of organised resistance on the ground, and he and Watney had no choice but to build up their secret army from scratch, employing the help of writer André Malraux, who had recently become one of de Gaulle's regional military commanders. By June FOOTMAN had grown to a force of 600 men, and when D-Day came Hiller's sabotage teams attacked railway traffic and telecommunications targets, bringing the Lot to a standstill. But continued political wrangling between the communists, Vény and gaullist groups hampered Hiller's attempts to organise a unified resistance movement: neighbouring groups would steal arms and ammunition from each other, and anti-British feelings made it difficult to impose any proper order on the situation.
On 23 July Hiller and Malraux ran into a German roadblock near the town of Gramat. The injured Malraux was taken prisoner; Hiller was more seriously wounded, but managed to escape. Despite the presence of a large German column in the area, Watney summoned an emergency RAF supply drop the next night to parachute in essential medical supplies (Hiller was reportedly the first European to benefit from the new wonder drug, penicillin), before another air operation transported him back to England for surgery.
By the time he had recovered Hiller had no reason to return to the Lot: the retreat of German forces from the south-west and the dominance of de Gaulle's Forces Françaises de l'Interieur (FFI) meant that FOOTMAN had nothing more to do. However, the manner in which he had undertaken one of F Section's most difficult liaison missions did not go unnoticed, and he was awarded the DSO in 1945.
After the war, George Hiller worked in variety of diplomatic posts across the world, and married Judith Buchanan in 1963. Following a move to the British embassy in Brussels he was diagnosed with a serious muscular illness, and he died two years later, in 1972. His wartime exploits are remembered in Jacques Poirier's The Giraffe Has a Long Neck, published in 1995.Back to SOE Agent Profiles