He won the Military Cross and three Croix de Guerre operating in occupied France, Algiers and Corsica as an SOE agent in the fight against Hitler. But Jacque de Guelis died in a car crash three weeks after the end of World War II. Marlborough author Delphine Isaaman’s recent book, ‘Jaques de Guelis SOE’s Genial Giant’ brings his remarkable story to light.
The tale of Jaques de Guelis’ outstanding bravery as a forgotten hero has never been told – until now with the publication of a biography of the 6ft 4in tall “Genial Giant” by Delphine Isaaman, who has spent more than a decade researching his secret life.
The real life drama of Jacques, a distant relative she never met was launched at a special ceremony in his home town of Cardiff, where a blue plaque to him has been unveiled on the house in which he was born and the city where he is buried in Cathays Cemetery.
Yet none of that would have happened but for Delphine’s interest in genealogy and looking back into her own family history, the part French, part Swiss maternal side of her family and discovering through ongoing research into often hidden information about the secret Special Operations Executive set up by wartime Prime Minister Churchill.
Jacques met Churchill after escaping the invading Nazis at Dunkirk where he had been an interpreter and liaison officer with the British Expeditionary Force, which was so badly depleted on the beaches of the French port.
But he was back in France only days later, this time escaping over the Pyrenees, and returning home in March 1941 he was recruited by the French section of SOE to become one of their first agents whose aim was to sabotage enemy installations and prepare for the day when invasion would secure Europe’s liberation.
Jacques took part in missions in France and Corsica, the major one in 1944 after the Normandy landings when his mission helped the French resistance harass and delay the Nazi tanks heading north to join the battle.
Delphine visited many of the sites vital in her story, including the field where, late for his rendezvous, Jacques jumped on to a Lysander flying him home but left on the ground a bottle of champagne and box of chocolates he was bringing back for his wife.
Research for the book took her to meet the late Bob Maloubier, the French agent Jacques recruited – who became known as the French James Bond for his acts of daring and who was with legendary agent 23-year-old Violette Szabo on her last tragic mission, and James Edgar, now 98, who was Jacques’ radio operator on his most dangerous mission in France in 1944.
“The unveiling of my book and the unveiling of the plaque made it a great day,” Delphine told marlborough.news. “Relatives from France and across the UK were there to pay tribute to the once forgotten hero in our family. And I am very proud to have played a part in recognising Jacques’ bravery in helping to bring the war to an end.” ”This book was for me a personal journey” she added ”Jaques’ life became something so close to me that once I’d started I had to see it through.”
Jacques de Guelis, SOE’s Genial Giant by Delphine Isaaman is published by Unicorn and is available on Amazon, price £15.99.