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He had written an instruction to Zenna on the envelope. ” What Phoebe and Zenna were able to tell me was this. Vera had two brothers, Guy and Ralph. D. at Prague in 1937. After the war Guy taught African languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He had a genius for languages. Ralph, Vera's elder brother, who died in 1964, was manager of an oil company in Istanbul before the war. Later he dabbled in business. Ralph had one son, Ronald, a journalist living in Lewes. Zenna and Phoebe passed on whatever tales they had overheard about Vera's parents and about a large house somewhere in Romania, but they didn't seem to know what to believe.

Then came parachute training at Ringway airfield, near Manchester. Throughout their early instruction the agents were told they were undergoing straightforward commando training, and many still had little concept of what lay ahead. Then at Beaulieu, in the New Forest, where the agents at last began to learn the craft of clandestinity—using cutouts (innocent intermediaries), boîtes-aux-lettres (“letterboxes,” places where messages could safely be left), and basic Morse code—the reality of their likely missions became clearer.

With no other secure means of communication on the ground, couriers carried messages between circuits and subcircuits, travelling long distances, often by bicycle or train, memorising their messages or writing them on silk paper or rice paper, which could easily be hidden or destroyed. Because they were constantly on the move, couriers ran the highest risk of being stopped and arrested. For male couriers that risk became greater with every day the war went on. From early 1942 all young men in France were liable to be picked off the street and, unless they were classified as essential workers, were sent to Germany as forced labourers.

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