Mrs Phyllis (Pippa) Latour Doyle (MBE)

Pippa Doyle Pippa Doyle

Pippa has been awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme by the French on the 16th January 1946 and the Member of the British Empire (MBE Military) on the 4th September 1954 (London Gazette 37250), French Legion of Honour 2014 for services to France in WWII. In her twilight years, just recently Pippa was recognised by the French Government with the Medal of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour for her actions during WWII November 2014, and recently 2017 the French Resistance Medal of 1943 of the then President of France Charles de Gaulle.

Pippa Doyle Medals

In New Zealand resides a highly respected and revered World War II covert operator in Pippa Doyle.

November 25th, 2014 Pippa was awarded the highest decoration in France, the Knight of the Legion of Honour, an order established by Napoleon Bonaparte, French ambassador Mr Laurent Contini presented the award at a ceremony in New Zealand.

Pippa’s wartime record of service is truly amazing and that is only what she can and has divulged.

I have decided to include some of what Pippa has divulged of her SOE training and service with an insight into the military unarmed combat and military self-defence training of the SOE.

My training friendship and association with Col Rex Applegate, a former World War II OSS chief instructor provided me with an insight into the OSS training and that of his WWII British counterpart the SOE, whom he worked with in World War II.

The OSS (Office of Strategic Services) were the US equivalent to the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) and Col Applegate worked closely with Fairbairn and Sykes the SOE close combat instructors that Pippa received her unarmed combat and self-defence training from.

Pippa was identified for her strength of character and desirable attributes by SOE selectors and proved they got it right through her surpassing all training requirements and proving herself as a formidable covert operator in wartime. This record of her service will give readers a glimpse at the type of tactics and skills SOE operators were trained in and the weapons they were issued with.

I’m very thankful to Maj David Hopkins, retired, the NZ patron of the World War II Long Range Desert Group, a forerunner of the Brit SAS for his assistance in making this record of service possible. I had wanted to include Pippa Doyle in the CQC Times record of service for many years since first talking to Dave about this amazing lady.

I share an interest with Dave in New Zealand’s long history in irregular warfare dating back to the Bush and Forest Rangers. My interest is a trade craft interest in the CQC/MSD tactics and skills of my former CQC instructors that were WWII leading allied military instructors, as well as the next generation of military Master-Chief instructors I have been trained by or worked with as an instructor of military CQC/MSD. Many of the methods of mayhem and dirty and deadly tricks brigade practises from the Great Wars have stood the test of time and are still included in the most current Special Operations Forces CQC trade craft skills I instruct today.

So it is with respect and admiration that I have written this record of service file of a very brave and humble heroine in Pippa Doyle for our CQC Times Record of Service files.

Many of the individuals included in the record of service have been known personally to us at the Todd Group or to people close to us and this is the case with Pippa Doyle through Major Dave Hopkins retired.

Mrs Latour Doyle was born on the 8th April 1921 in South Africa on a Belgian ship docked there. She was an only child of a French father, a medical doctor, and an English mother. When her father went to work in the Congo, he sent her and her mother back to South Africa and was unfortunately killed in the Congo during wartime when Pippa was only three months old. Her mother remarried a wealthy racing driver and sadly was killed in a race car accident when, through mechanical fault she lost control of the car hitting a barrier.

After this Pippa went to live with her father’s cousin and his family in the Congo. Tragedy struck again when she was seven years of age when her stepmother died in a horse riding accident after being thrown from her horse and bitten by a puff adder. Pippa was brought up by her father’s cousin and stepbrothers in a loving environment. Her stepbrothers were like fathers to her, they played with her and taught her how to shoot.

Pippa moved to the United Kingdom in 1941 where her military service began when she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a training flight mechanic, and was selected by British intelligence as part of a group of 20 candidates for specialist training. The SOE required operators with the right attributes and Pippa met the requirements with her strength of character and being able to speak French fluently. She had to undergo all the required specialist training to prepare her to be a covert operator in enemy occupied territory.

Pippa had to pass all the arduous physical training requirements to ensure she had the physical capabilities required to undertake her duties and keep her safe in a foreign hostile environment, training included undergoing unarmed combat training from the pioneers, Fairbairn and Sykes, who were former officers in the Shanghai municipal police in the 1930s.

The SOE and OSS military self-defence and military unarmed combat courses were described as unconventional foul methods of silent killing, including taking one’s own life to prevent torture and agonising death. Both Fairbairn and Sykes were expert instructors whom specialised in military armed and unarmed combat along with their US counterpart Col Rex Applegate from the OSS. It was Col Rex Applegate that first told me of SOE and OSS close combat training and how tough of mind and resourceful the men and woman that served under these two clandestine organisations were.

He not only developed skills and worked on the invention of “exotic weapons” as he put it, but he also developed close combat specific training facilities. Returning operators would be debriefed by Applegate and he would use this valuable information to evaluate tactics and skills and gather information, thus aide in the development of specialist tactics skills and custom designed weapons to increase objective achievement levels.

Pippa was trained in the best of dirty tricks brigade armed and unarmed combat, and was respected for her commitment and resolve. I have read of her unarmed combat training and of her being described as every bit as formidable as her male counterparts. These skills gave the specially selected and trained operators the best chances of victory over defeat, even when compromised and faced by a formidable enemy threat in life or death actions on encounters.

Covert operators were trained in skills to achieve their objective by the best of the best instructors in their fields of expertise, including being trained by criminals skilled in lock picking, and cat burglars that included “Killer” Green, who was trained by the underworld and who then taught the SOE operatives lock picking and improvised key making.

Wartime military unarmed combat and military self-defence instructors often had to be recruited from the civilian world where they had expertise and reputations as leaders in the field of military unarmed combat and military self-defence. Leading instructors would study and train in foreign fighting arts of non-allies and enemies alike, as part of developing methods to defeat them.

Pippa underwent some initial tough training leading to her being offered to go on to further specialist training with the SOE.

The (SOE) special operations executive was established by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1940 with the objective of the SOE to carry out covert operations, including sabotage and spying throughout enemy occupied Europe. Churchill’s aim for the SOE was to “set Europe ablaze”.

When offered the chance to undergo further training required to join the ranks of the SOE, Pippa did not need to think twice about it and immediately accepted the offer and thus began her specialist role training required to be a covert operator behind enemy lines in World War II. She had once told the Army news that she had joined the SOE out of revenge as her Godmother’s father was shot by the Germans and her Godmother had committed suicide after being imprisoned by them.

SOE training comprised of stages of training, beginning with the preliminary selection assessment type evaluation of the candidates. Those that were deemed not suitable were sent for debriefing where they were instructed to forget everything they had seen and heard. The successful candidates post the initial selection evaluations were sent on to specialist schools of instruction to learn the tactics and skills required for their roles. A considerable amount of the training was conducted in Scotland, was extremely challenging and arduous, especially having to deal with the conditions and terrain. These specialist schools included parachute training, one aspect of training that Pippa did not enjoy. Parachute training consisted of completing at least one jump from a plane and one from a fixed balloon in preparation for jumping into enemy occupied territory.

SOE had training schools throughout the United Kingdom for various specialist fields of training. Preliminary training schools included introductions to extreme physical fitness, as well as unarmed combat’s silent killing, aimed and instinctive shooting, navigation, field survival, communications, and other necessary skill sets. Those that failed to make the grade during preliminary training ended up undergoing debriefing to forget everything they had learnt seen and heard.

There were short realistic training exercises where candidates would have to demonstrate their capabilities to blend in, disappear, be able to undertake covert surveillance of a subject, as well as counter -surveillance if being followed. These exercises also included dealing with questioning and interrogation if detained.

Because of the nature of the covert operator’s roles, they had to be able to effectively escape and evade the enemy, and as such had to prove themselves over some of the toughest terrain the UK had to offer. Hard slogs over hills and up mountains, as well as commando crawling through mud and hard terrain had to be undertaken by both men and woman candidates alike.

There were many specialist schools of instruction providing specialist courses required for the candidate’s operational roles, and they were all crammed into around three months of training before being deployed. Disguise, sabotage, deception, escape and evasion, map reading, were but some of the specialist skill sets SOE candidates were trained in. Pippa was under no illusion of the dangers of what she had volunteered for and was aware of the “L-tablet”, a protective coated lethal suicide capsule that operators carried that would cause death in less than a minute of the operator biting through the protective coating.

While the SOE and the OSS were involved with the development of wide ranging ballistic and non-ballistic, penetrative, bludgeon, chemical and explosive type weapons, the primary weapons for operators like Pippa were firearms and daggers. SOE training included not only silent killing by unarmed and non-ballistic weapons means but also by silenced firearms. Her weapons training included not only the use of the Sten gun, pistols, and Fairbairn Sykes dagger, but also improvised or exotic weapons as Col Applegate would refer to them.

SOE personnel would have to operate under high level threat and risk and as such men and woman were equal and underwent the same specialist gruelling physical training and deadly CQB and CQC training. The operatives were instructed in the importance of quick and silent killing or if a quick and silent kill was not immediately possible, they were trained in the importance of disarming and disabling the enemy followed by disposing of the enemy. Instructors enforced that you should not stop on crippling, incapacitating or maiming your enemy but should take advantage of your enemy being easier to kill.

They were trained in wide ranging deadly cloak and dagger tactics and skills necessary in roles such as sabotage, espionage, assassination, and Close Quarters silent killing and instructed in the fact that a dagger is always loaded and is a silent and deadly weapon that can eliminate the most formidable enemy. Training in covert concealment, drawing of the weapon from its sheath, and handling it with sound retention were all included in the SOE dagger unarmed combat training package.

Understudies were made well aware that a dagger in the hands of an enemy skilled in knife combat was extremely dangerous, and disarming of such an enemy was high risk, when not by means of a pistol or submachine gun. Instructions for dispatching of a dagger armed enemy included, if he’s got a knife shoot him, if you don’t have a firearm use a long hard weapon or improvised implement to disarm the enemy of their weapon, followed by dispatching them. If you cannot find a disarming implement, you had better be highly skilled and confident at evasive clearing of the kill zone when the knife armed enemy was fully committed, and beyond the point of no return as part of unarmed dagger disarming disabling and disposing of the enemy threat.

SOE and OSS operatives were trained in how to exploit human weaknesses and create openings by the use of distractions and deliberate deceptive actions to bring on human reactions and offer exposed target access leading to the destruction of life-support bodily targets. Spikes and small blades such as thumb knives could be concealed in clothing collars were common tools of the cloak and dagger trade, as well as spikes concealed in pencils. These types of weapons were instructed to SOE operatives and commonly included in their covert kit. These dagger and spike penetrative weapons were a primary non-ballistic lethal covert weapons option over bludgeon type weapons, that were more disabling concussion tools that required more physical force by the user and as such were not as guaranteed to dispatch the enemy.

The use of improvised or terrain provided weapons to distract injure or incapacitate the enemy thus making them easier targets were all important cloak and dagger tradecraft practices of the SOE.

Understanding human nature and how to exploit human responses and weaknesses, as well as how to use deception and be convincing in your verbiage and actions could be the difference between life and death. Skills such as shaking the enemies hand to effectively seize and contain them to avoid escape as part of employing a covert deadly dagger option to dispatch them was one of the covert operator’s masked skills instructed to the SOE. Aimed and instinctive shooting included, double tapping to make sure the enemy target was killed.

Pippa undertook tough and demanding training required for such realities as escape and evasion for SOE operatives, including high rope tree and down pipe climbing, scaling buildings and knowing how to escape over rooftops disappearing into the landscape. They were taught the art of deception and the most cunning of ways of conducting themselves to protect their covert status. The individual operators had to possess initiative, be able to conceal equipment, weapons, orders and plans, they also had to be extremely practical realists, innovative and resourceful to maintain their anonymity and ensure their tools of their trade and plans were not discovered and be able to convince the enemy that they were no threat and had legitimate reasoning for being there and this is something Pippa was very good at.

Pippa Doyle had three World War II codenames Genevieve, Plus Fours and Lampooner.

Parachute training included preparing her to parachute behind enemy lines, which she did in the early hours of May 2, 1944 as part of a mission codenamed scientist 82. She parachuted into the Normandy area of France with a small entrenching tool strapped to her leg to bury her parachute and clothing with.

Being extremely resourceful and capable, she had her codes on a piece of silk and after using a code she would pinprick it, hide the codes on the silk material, by wrapping them around a knitting needle and push it inside a shoelace sheath that she then used to tie her hair up with. Today at age 94 she is still independent and resourceful, living in our own home and still driving a motor vehicle.

SOE’s section F for operations in France required operatives to have to be able to convince the enemy and locals alike that they were French citizens. On two occasions Pippa came to the attention of the enemy and used her initiative to outsmart the enemy. When she was rounded up taken into custody, searched and interrogated, her words and actions during a strip search put an end to further investigation or interrogation. On the second occasion, she convinced two German soldiers that came looking for food that she was suffering from scarlet fever and packing to go back home.

Members of the resistance assisted and supported Pippa so she could go about her duties which included maintaining and getting to hiding places for the radio sets in various locations in the countryside. Her training not only prepared her to send and receive messages, but also how to encrypt messages and repair broken wireless sets. Pippa had six bicycles hidden throughout the countryside that she used to get to and from transmission locations. Her primary role as radio operator in enemy occupied territory in communications and signals requirements meant that Pippa had to be able to memorise codes and she was able to tap out on Morse code at 24 words a minute.

Pippa would bicycle around the countryside and use the hidden radio sets to send reports back to London using the bicycles to recharge radio batteries. She would use the cover of selling soap, including to German soldiers. She knew how to blend in enemy occupied territory where Gestapo and SS were everywhere. She would converse with German troops portraying herself as an over talkative, innocent non-threat. Her cover story backed up by forged papers was of a young schoolgirl that had left Paris and was residing with her extended family in the countryside to escape the threats of bombing and to study painting.

Pippa’s role as a radio operator behind enemy lines was extremely high risk and dangerous and at times she could not be armed as this was not always practical as it could compromise her. Unlike 14 other SOE female agents, Pippa got out alive. Four of the women who died perished in Nazi gas chambers and three were shot at Dachau concentration camp. During the war about 500 SOE agents went to France as part of Section F and one in five never returned. Pippa was one of 40 female operators working undercover in Europe throughout World War II. There were 470 covert operators sent to France, of which 118 failed to return home.

The execution of her duties enabled the Allied forces to deploy its troops on important German targets during World War II. The SOE obviously identified not only her tenacity and expertise but also her ability to keep a secret. Her children were not aware of her very specialist wartime service until her eldest son read about her actions of bravery online and it was not until 2000 that she spoke of her wartime service with her adult children.

Pippa’s SOE training combined with her resourcefulness enabled her to live rough off the land if required. Her issued firearms were a Sten gun and a 7 mm pistol with a silencer that she often could not carry as they could not be safely concealed. Her existence must have been extremely stressful, especially with the German radio detecting equipment being extremely advanced for the time. She had to rely on her training resourcefulness and her natural instincts to ensure she avoided detection and evaded the enemy. If her messages were detected, she knew the enemy would be close behind her and if she was caught she would face some horrific treatment and most likely death.

After the war, Pippa lived in Kenya, then Fiji, Australia and eventually settled in New Zealand. It was by chance of fate that Pippa Doyle ended up living in New Zealand. After the war, she married and moved to live in Australia. Pippa and her family then moved to Fiji before deciding to move back to Australia. It was only during that flight back to Australia that she found out she was actually bound for Whenuapai New Zealand, not Brisbane Australia.

Pippa Doyle is truly a heroine that prefers to keep a low profile and does not like talking of her wartime courageous service. Pippa transmitted 135 secret messages back to the United Kingdom before France’s liberation in August 1944. She fulfilled her role with bravery courage and honour doing what she had to do, constantly under the reality that she could be compromised, captured and killed at any time.

Talking with Dave and reading of her personal memories of some of the outcomes of her actions, not only made her tenacity and resourcefulness blatantly apparent but also epitomised her humanity and respect for innocent human lives.

On one occasion when she had to request a German listening post be taken out, a German woman and two children were killed indirectly by her actions. Finding out her request had resulted in innocent citizens deaths, gave her a horrible feeling. She considered herself responsible for their deaths and this sense of responsibility was a terrible burden to carry. Later Pippa attended the funeral of the women who was the mother of the women and grandmother of the two children that were indirectly killed as a result of her necessary wartime actions.

The reality of a lot of the SOE actions taken was that they had to be employed at extreme close quarters which was far removed from the likes of dropping bombs on targets. SOE operators had to be in arms reach and body contact, up close and personal with their enemy target and as such would see hear and feel the realities of their deadly actions taken.

The courage and bravery of Pippa knowing the outcomes if she was compromised and being able to maintain her cover is testament to her strength of mind, resourcefulness, and the effectiveness of her trained tactics and skills. She had to deal with the fear and stress of being a covert operator in enemy occupied territory as well as post service after-effects of what she had to endure and do in wartime. Through training in the best of tactics and skills of the time, high level intestinal fortitude and inner resolve, resourcefulness and her uncompromising selfless service to her country for the war effort, Pippa Doyle returned home a true respected wartime heroine.

Article written by Todd Group

The Todd Group, established by the late Harry Baldock, have been providing CQC, CQB, unarmed combat, defensive tactics, and self protection training since 1927.

They are instructors and consultants to military, police, close protection, corrections, security, and civilians.

The Todd Group has over 35 training depots nationally and internationally.