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Brian Stonehouse

Brian Stonehouse (1918-1998) was British painter and Special Operations Executive agent during World War Two.

Brian Julian Stonehouse was born on August 8 1918 in Torquay, England. When his family moved to France, he went to school in the town of Wimereux in Pas-de-Calais. Back in Britain in 1932, he studied art in Ipswich.

Stonehouse worked as an artist but joined the Territorial Army after the outbreak of World War Two. He was later conscripted into the Royal Artillery. In 1940 he worked as an interpreter for French troops in Glasgow who 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 Executive contacted him. Due to his fluency in French, SOE recruited him as a wireless operator with code name of Celestin.

On July 1, 1941, Brian Stonehouse parachuted into occupied France near the city of Tours in 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 Lyons.

In September, accompanied by another agent, Blanche Charlet, he went to a safe house and 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 Milice arrested him on October 24, 1941 in Chateau Hurlevent near Lyons. Blanche Charlet was also captured but later managed to escape to London.

In Castres Prison, the Gestapo placed Stonehouse in solitary confinement while subjecting him to frequent and brutal interrogations. In December he was transferred to Fresnes prison in Paris and further interrogated. Eventually he was shipped to Germany with other SOE prisoners. In October of 1943 he arrived in Saarbrucken and in November was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. He spent a brief time in a Luftwaffe factory camp in Vienna.

In the summer of 1944 he was transferred to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in Alsace with the PAT Line organizer, Albert Guerisse. There he saved his life by drawing sketches for the camp commandant. At the camp he witnessed the arrival of four other female SOE agents, Andrée Borrel, Vera Leigh, Diana Rowden and Sonia Olschanesky who were all executed and disposed of in the crematorium in an attempt to make them disappear without a trace. After the war, Brian Stonehouse and Albert Guerisse were able to testify at the Nazi war crimes trials 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 Dachau from where he was liberated by American troops on April 29, 1945. At home, he was awarded a military MBE. After the war, he remained in the military and was promoted to captain while working for the Allied Control Commission in Frankfurt, Germany where he assisted with the interrogation of Gestapo and SS members.

After 1946 Stonehouse continued his career as a fashion artist in the United States, painting for magazines like Vogue. In 1979 he returned to Britain and became a portrait painter. His clients included members of the Royal family.

Brian Stonehouse died in December 1998.