- Brian Stonehouse
He was born in
Torquay, England. When his family moved to France, he went to school in the town of Wimereuxin Pas-de-Calais. Back in Britain in 1932, he studied art in Ipswichat Ipswich Art School
Second World War years
Stonehouse worked as an artist but joined the
Territorial Armyafter the outbreak of World War II. He was later conscripted into the Royal Artillery. In 1940, he worked as an interpreter for French troops in Glasgowwho had been evacuated from Norway. In the autumn of 1941, he was training for a commission in the 121 Officer Cadet Unit when the Special Operations Executivecontacted him. Due to his fluency in French, SOE recruited him as a wireless operator with code name of "Celestin".
1 July 1941, Brian Stonehouse parachuted into occupied France near the city of Toursin the Loire Valley. His radio got caught in a tree and he spent five nights in the forest before he could get it down. After finally retrieving it, the radio would not work properly and his contact told him to move to Lyon.
In September, accompanied by another agent,
Blanche Charlet, he went to a safe houseand made contact with the other SOE agents. By August he was in regular contact with the SOE station in London. However he became careless and transmitted too much and too long. As a result, German direction-finders triangulated his position and the Milicearrested him on 24 October 1941in Chateau Hurleventnear Lyon. Blanche Charlet was also captured but later managed to escape to London.
Castres Prison, the Gestapoplaced Stonehouse in solitary confinement while subjecting him to frequent and brutal interrogations. In December he was transferred to Fresnes prisonin Parisand further interrogated. Eventually he was shipped to Germanywith other SOE prisoners. In October 1943, he arrived in Saarbrückenand in November was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. He spent a brief time in a Luftwaffefactory camp in Vienna.
In the summer of 1944, he was transferred to the
Natzweiler-Struthofconcentration camp in Alsacewith Pat O'Leary (war alias of Albert Guérisse), the Pat Lineorganizer. There he saved his life by drawing sketches for the camp commandant. At the camp he witnessed the arrival of four female SOE agents, Andrée Borrel, Vera Leigh, Diana Rowdenand Sonya Olschanezkywho were all executed and disposed of in the crematoriumin an attempt to make them disappear without a trace, under the programme of night and fog. After the war, Brian Stonehouse and Albert Guerisse were able to testify at the Nazi war crimestrials as to the women's fate. In 1985, Stonehouse painted a poignant watercolour of the four women from memory which now hangs in the Special Forces Club in London.
From Natzweiler-Struthof, Stonehouse was sent to the
Dachau concentration campfrom where he was liberated by U.S. troops on 29 April 1945. At home, he was created a military MBE. After the war, he remained in the military and was promoted to captain while working for the Allied Control Commissionin Frankfurt, Germany where he assisted with the interrogation of Gestapoand SSmembers.
After 1946, Stonehouse continued his career as a fashion artist in the
United States, painting for magazines like "Vogue", Harper's Bazaarand Elizabeth Arden. [cite web
title = Obituary: Brian Stonehouse.
accessdate = 2008-08-09 ] In 1979, he returned to Britain and became a portrait painter. His clients included members of the Royal family. One of his last portraits of The Queen Mother, who sat for him many times, [cite web
last = St Edmundsbury
first = Borough Council
title = Local museum helps rediscover historic works of art.
accessdate = 2008-08-09 ] still hangs in the Special Forces Club in London.
During his final years Stonehouse was an active Theosophist living at the London branch of the
United Lodge of Theosophists.
Brian Stonehouse's art
Whilst operating in France Brian continued to sketch and draw people he came across. He was on several occasions told not to carry his sketch books with him whilst 'on duty' (Interview with his surviving brother, May 2007). Throughout his times in various prisons he continued to draw, at first secretly, but after discovery more openly. His collections of drawings of fellow SOE prisoners, life in prison and prison guards along with other personal artefacts was handed over by the Stonehouse Family to the
Imperial War Museum Londonin May 2007. These included, as well as the War Art, for example, postwar letters from surviving SOE operatives and letters and photographs from US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This last collection included a signed photograph and note from Eisenhower upon meeting Stonehouse again shortly after the war ended. This stated that upon meeting each other again, Brian Stonehouse asked Eisenhower if he knew why he had survived the war. The response from Eisenhower was, "I was going to ask you that".
Moyse's Hall Museum
Bury St Edmundsdiscovered and facilitated the handing over of the collections following a VE Day(Victory in Europe Day)/ VJ day(Victory over Japan Day) exhibition, to which the family had bought Brian's art and other personal artefacts.
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