Recruited: April 1941
Role: Circuit Organiser (F Section)
Circuits: URCHIN, SPINDLE
Codenames: Raoul, Michel
Fate: Captured, deported to Germany, survived
Peter Morland Churchill was born in Amsterdam in 1909. The son of the British consul there, he was sent to be educated at Malvern School and read Modern Languages at Cambridge, where he also played ice hockey at international level in 1932. After a spell as British pro-consul at Oran in 1934 he drifted through a number of jobs, before being commissioned into the Intelligence Corps in 1940.
Churchill was one of the French Section's early recruits, joining in April 1941. In January 1942 he was sent on his first mission, which involved meeting a charismatic artist named André Girard, the leader of a Resistance network called CARTE, based at Antibes on the Riviera. Girard had already come to the attention of SOE's local URCHIN network, which reported to London that he had important links with many senior members of the French army. Very soon the British convinced themselves that CARTE was capable of achieving great things, and began to support it. In April, Churchill made another brief expedition to bring two wireless operators, Edward Zeff and Isidore Newman, to Antibes, then returned in August to become the head of a new liaison circuit called SPINDLE, which would work with CARTE to train Girard's men and carry out sabotage across the Cote d'Azur. To assist, Churchill also adopted two abandoned F Section agents, an Egyptian Jewish wireless operator named Adolphe Rabinovitch, and a French-born courier, Odette Sansom.
In November the Germans invaded the southern, unoccupied zone of France. This marked the beginning of the end for CARTE, which soon descended into chaos following a split between Girard and his chief of staff, Henri Frager. Churchill decided to relocate SPINDLE to the safety of St Jorioz in the Haute-Savoie, but during his recall to London in March 1943 his circuit was infiltrated by Hugo Bleicher, a sergeant in the Abwehr posing as 'Colonel Henri', a German officer wanting to defect to the British. Churchill returned to St Jorioz on 15 April, but was arrested almost immediately, along with his courier Odette. Rabinovitch, based ten miles away at the village of Faverges, evaded capture.
Churchill and Odette were held by the Italians, then transferred to Fresnes prison in Paris. Despite Bleicher's attempts to get them to talk, both remained silent, and in February 1944 Churchill was deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, then transferred to Flossenberg and Dachau. As the Allies approached he was evacuated through Austria and northern Italy before being liberated in May 1945.
In 1947 he married Odette, who had survived torture and appalling treatment at Ravensbrück concentration camp. Their public profile was boosted by Jerrard Tickell's biography of Odette in 1949, followed by Herbert Wilcox's film adaptation, starring Anna Neagle as Odette and Trevor Howard as Churchill. Churchill wrote about his experiences shortly afterwards, in three volumes: Of Their Own Choice (1952), Duel of Wits (1953) and The Spirit in the Cage (1954). He and Odette also added their comments to Ian Colvin's English translation of Bleicher's own version of his wartime career, Colonel Henri's Memoirs (Bleicher later tried to persuade Churchill to take part in a magazine interview, an offer which he refused).
In 1955 Churchill divorced Odette and married a former model, Irene Hoyle, in Nice a year later. He continued to write, publishing a novel based on the Glières maquis, By Moonlight (1958), and a guidebook for British tourists visiting the Cote d'Azur, All About the French Riviera (1960). He settled in Le Rouret near Antibes - a spot he described as "the next best place to the Seychelles" - overlooking the coast he knew so well from his wartime days, and worked as an estate agent selling local property to British clients. He died in 1972.Back to SOE Agent Profiles