Johnny Marchant, who has died aged 92, won the Croix de Guerre serving on SOE Jedburgh missions in France and Burma.
In the early hours of July 9 1944, Marchant’s team, code-named “Felix”, was parachuted into Brittany, near Jugon, west of Dinan. Marchant’s field name was “Somerset” and he was accompanied by Capt Jean Souquet from France and Sgt Peter Colvin, the radio operator.
Their objective was to link up with teams already operating in their area and coordinate the various Resistance groups in what were largely small-scale guerrilla operations to harass the German units. This included selecting dropping zones and organising the delivery of arms, ammunition and money.
The team carried pistols and always wore uniform when they moved by day. The nights were spent in farms. Girls mounted on bicycles were used as couriers because of the problems encountered at checkpoints.
By the beginning of August, they had more than 30 companies comprising some 3,000 armed Résistants under their leadership. Operations included the capture intact of a radio station at Caulnes and a large food dump at Dinan, raiding convoys and derailing an ammunition train.
They attacked a column of 600 German parachutists in the Collinée area. The advance of the enemy column was stopped for six hours at the village of Merdrignac and six hostages were shot in retaliation. The same column was attacked at Moncontour, where a further 13 hostages were shot. The remaining Germans were hunted down by the resistance groups.
Twelve companies were moved to Cap Fréhel to prevent the Germans obtaining food in the local villages. After capturing two 76mm guns, they shelled the garrison there and, with the help of the Americans, forced them to surrender. The team returned to England on August 23. In their mission report they stated that the results obtained were remarkable in view of the inadequacy of instruction given to the Resistance groups in the use of the weapons and in fighting in units, and the lack of suitable footwear and clothing. John Jenner Marchant was born in London on January 24 1920 and educated at Aldenham School, where he was the boxing champion. In April 1940 he was commissioned into the Wiltshire Regiment and spent the early part of the war on Salisbury Plain instructing new recruits in the art of trench warfare. In October 1943 he joined SOE as an instructor at Milton Hall, near Peterborough. Volunteers underwent months of rigorous training in all aspects of guerrilla warfare behind enemy lines, including unarmed combat, silent killing, ambushes, demolition and explosives, small arms and parachuting. The “Jeds” were not spies but primarily a liaison force, and the operational teams were usually formed of either two British or two Americans plus one national from the “target” country. There was always a radio operator in the team who was proficient in high speed morse and ciphers. After the mission to Brittany, Marchant returned to Milton Hall and late in 1944, went to South East Asia Command and joined SOE Force 136. In January 1945 he was parachuted into Burma behind the Japanese lines with a reconnaissance unit commanded by Major Hedley. A Manual of Burmese, published in 1888, formed part of the standard equipment. It contained useful translations for words such as “laudanum” and “chambermaid”, quoted a fare of a few pounds for a passage from Rangoon to London and listed, among the principal exports of the country, edible birds’ nests and sea slugs. In May, Marchant took part in “Character”, an operation under the command of Lt-Col Peacock to raise Karen levies in the Karen Hills. By the end of the war he had been awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm and twice mentioned in despatches. He was demobilised in 1946 and then farmed in Oxfordshire. Johnny Marchant married, in 1947, Elizabeth Hermione á Court Ratliffe, who survives him with their four sons. Johnny Marchant, born January 24 1920, died January 19 2013 Source: Telegraph