Who Was Phyllis Latour? The World War II Heroine; Her Husband, Children, Cause Of Death, Wikipedia, Biography

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Phyllis Latour Pippa Doyle, the last of the 39 female secret agents who served in Sir Winston Churchill’s “secret army” in France, has died aged 102.

Phyllis Latour was a famous South African spy.

Best known as Pippa, she was an agent of the United Kingdom’s clandestine Special Operations Executive organisation during World War II in France.

The World War II heroine served in Sir Winston Churchill’s secret army. The then 23-year-old British secret agent parachuted into occupied Normandy to gather intelligence on Nazi positions in preparation for D-Day.

She was reported dead in October 2023 at age 102.

Here’s what we know about her, why she was famous, and her cause of death.

WWII heroine Phyllis Latour was one of 39 female agents who risked their lives as a spy behind enemy lines.
WWII heroine Phyllis Latour was one of 39 female agents who risked their lives as a spy behind enemy lines.

Who was Phyllis Latour?

Phyllis Latour was the last survivor of the French section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) which was ordered by Churchill to “Set Europe ablaze!” for the occupying Nazis.

Phyllis, whose codename was Genevieve among many others, was one of 39 female agents who risked their lives as a spy behind enemy lines.

She was born on April 8, 1921, in Durban, Natal, Union of South Africa, to British citizens Philippe (father) and Louise (mother).

Her dad was a French doctor who met and married her mother, a British woman who was living in South Africa at the time.

Her father died during local conflicts in the Belgian Congo when she was three months old and her mother remarried to a racing driver but then died in a car crash, leaving Phyllis orphaned.

At the age of three, she was sent to live with her father’s cousin in the Congo, where she led an outdoor life, being educated at home and then at Kenya High School, Nairobi, before moving to England in 1939.

Phyllis Latour, the last survivor of Sir Winston Churchill's secret army has died
Phyllis Latour, the last survivor of Sir Winston Churchill’s secret army has died

Phyllis Latour’s wartime career explored.

She first joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force at age 20 in 1941 to work as a flight mechanic, but SOE recruiters spotted her potential and offered her a job as a spy.

After a close family friend – her godmother’s father who she viewed as her grandfather – had been shot by the Nazis, she was eager to support the war effort however she could.

Phyllis immediately accepted the SOE’s offer and began an intensive training program.

In addition to learning about encryption and surveillance, trainees also had to pass grueling physical tests and even learned about accessing buildings from a cat burglar.

She first deployed to Aquitaine in Vichy France where she worked for a year as a spy using the codename Genevieve.

The French resistance in the area was sabotaging key transport links, disrupting German forces as they fought the Allied advance.

For this they needed supplies – dropped by air from Britain – and aerial support.

The messages being sent by Genevieve were vital intelligence from inside enemy territory, but they came with several close shaves.

Working behind German lines, as the fighting grew closer, was incredibly dangerous, but she never lost her nerve.

She had “tons of guts” according to her citation for the MBE at the end of the war.

Another dangerous mission, however, began on May 1, 1944, when she jumped out of a U.S. Air Force bomber and landed behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Normandy.

In an interview with the New Zealand Army News magazine, she described how risky the mission was, noting that “The men who had been sent just before me were caught and executed.

“I was told I was chosen for that area [of France] because I would arouse less suspicion.”

She carried her silken, one-time codes, inserted with a knitting needle into a flat shoelace, which she used as a hair-tie.

When arrested and strip-searched, Phyllis casually threw her hair-tie on her pile of clothing and shook her hair to show that she was not hiding anything.

During her months in Normandy, she sent 135 secret messages conveying invaluable information on Nazi troop positions.

This was used to help Allied forces prepare for the Normandy landings on D-Day and during the subsequent military campaign.

In 2014 she was appointed a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by the French government in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy.

Phyllis Latour was married after her World War II career to an engineer named Doyle (not pictured).
Phyllis Latour was married after her World War II career to an engineer named Doyle (not pictured).

Who was Phyllis Latour’s husband?

Phyllis Latour was known to have been married once. After World War II, one of the things Phyllis Latour did was to get married and make her family.

She got married to her husband Patrick Doyle. She then became known as Pippa Doyle after taking her spouse’s surname.

Her husband, Doyle, was an Australian engineer and the couple lived in Kenya, Fiji, and then moved to Australia.

Latour and Patrick got divorced in 1975 and the single mother then finally settled in West Auckland in New Zealand.

She was described as having "tons of guts"
She was described as having “tons of guts”

Did Phyllis Latour have any children?

Before Phyllis Latour died, she was a mother and a proud one, to be precise.

She had four children but her kids’ gender, names, ages, and other details are not clear to the media.

For many years she kept silent, she told the New Zealand Army News magazine in 2009: ” didn’t have good memories of the war, so I didn’t bother telling anyone what I did.

“I knew I would have been owed campaign medals, but I wasn’t interested in any if the people who had helped me in France did not receive them too.

“My eldest son found out by reading something on the internet, and my children insisted I send off for my medals.

“I was asked if I wanted them to be formally presented to me, and I said no, I didn’t. It was my family who really wanted them.” 

The heroine lived a long life and died aged 102
The heroine lived a long life and died aged 102. Credit: AFP

What was Phyllis Latour’s cause of death?

World War heroine Phyllis Latour died on 7 October 2023, at the age of 102, per Stuff.

She reportedly died in West Auckland, New Zealand.

Before her death, she was the last living female SOE agent of the 39 who worked in France during World War II.