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During the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill created the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to conduct acts of sabotage and subversion, and raise secret armies of partisans in German-occupied Europe. With the directive to “set Europe ablaze,” the SOE undertook a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the Nazi Gestapo. An agent’s failure could result in indescribable torture, dispatch to a concentration camp, and, often, a death sentence.
While the SOE’s contribution to the Allied war effort is still debated, and many of its files remain classified, it was a unique wartime creation that reflected innovation, adventure, and a fanatical devotion on the part of its personnel to the Allied cause.
The SOE has an important Canadian connection: Canadians were among its operatives and agents behind enemy lines. Camp X, in Whitby, Ontario, was a special training school that trained agents for overseas duty, and an infamous Canadian codenamed “Intrepid” ran SOE operations in the Americas.