Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Lille V.C. that never was

1. "For Valour": a Victoria Cross
2. Two photographs of Captain Michael Trotobas
(Better known in northern France as 'Capitaine Michel')

[Courtesy of the Bondues Resistance Museum, France
3. 'Sylvestre-Farmer' Resistance Memorial
(Lille Southern Cemetery)
 4. CWGC headstone for 'Capitaine Michel' 
(Captain Michael A.R. Trotobas)
(Lille Southern Cemetery)
[Photographs taken with permission]
SOE agent Captain Michael Alfred Raymond Trotobas, known in northern France as "Capitaine Michel", died as he lived - as a hero. Although his name was put forward for a Victoria Cross, without the presence of a senior officer to witness his gallantry, the award was refused. He died fighting off the Germans who stormed his 'safe house' at Lille, northern France.

Because of strictly adhered requirements of the Victoria Cross warrant many gallant men and women have not been awarded that honour. Captain Michael Trotobas, head of the 'Sylvestre Farmer' resistance network in the Lille district of northern France was one of them.

For further information click on 'Comments' below.


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

The Lille V.C. that never was

Michael Trotobas, was at the head of one of the most active French resistance groups in the Lille district of northern France. It was known as the 'Sylvestre Farmer' network. He received a 'Mention in Dispatches' during the withdrawal to the Dunkirk evacuation beaches of 1940. Yet, for the action in which he died on 27 November 1943 not only did he not receive a posthumous Victoria Cross, he did not even receive another 'Mention in Dispatches'. His was the Lille V.C. that never was.

This is how professor M.R.D. (Michael) Foot, the official historian of SOE has described the circumstances of his death:

"Michael Trotobas ('Farmer') ran a still more aggressively active sabotage circuit in the industrial area around Lille. Going for a drive with him, one of his friends said years later, was like living through a book of the 'Iliad'. He died, as he had lived, heroically: early one morning, the Germans raided his digs and shot him dead - not before he had killed their commander too. (He was put in for a Victoria Cross, which was refused, as there was nobody senior to himself present to report on what he had done under fire, as the VC warrant requires. In the end, his name fell off the list even of those who were to get a posthumous mention in dispatches, and his parents were left for years to believe he had come to a shady end.)"

Foot, M.R.D. (1999), "SOE: The Special Operations Executive", Pimlico, London (p. 311-2)
ISBN 0-7126-6585-4

Captain Michael Trotobas: CWGC citation:

Rank: Captain
Service No: 167302
Date of Death: 27/11/1943
Age: 29
Regiment/Service: Manchester Regiment
attd. (French Resistance Movement) Special Operations Executive
Awards: Mentioned in Dispatches
Grave Reference: Section 92A.
Cemetery: LILLE SOUTHERN CEMETERY, France (Nord)

Additional Information:
Son of Henri Noel and Agnes Trotobas, of Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.
Formerly served with the Middlesex Regiment.
Buried below the Resistance Movement Memorial.

Also awarded the 'Medaille de la Resistance Francaise' (French Resistance medal)

Thursday, 23 February, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Arthur Staggs: "Sylvestre-Farmer"
Wireless Operator

While operating in the Lille area during 1942 - 1943, the Wireless Operator for Michael Trotobas and the "Sylvestre - Farmer" network was Lieutenant Arthur Albert George Staggs. His 'nom de guerre' was Albert Foulon (Bébert) and his code name was "Guy".

In the aftermath of the death of Michael Trotobas, in December 1943 Arthur Staggs was arrested in a house at Roubaix, along with a friend who was also a French 'résistant' - Claude Bagein. The reason - the Getapo believed they were in the Resistance and that Arthur Staggs was a British parachutist! The Gestapo's suspicions were - of course - completely true.

Nevertheless, despite imprisonment and torture, Arthur Staggs and Claude Bagein maintained their claim of innocence. The Gestapo failed to find any link with 'Sylvestre - Farmer' or the Resistance. Ultimately, the Gestapo did not believe their own first suspicions! Arthur and Claude were released in February 1944. From then until after the Normandy Landings and the Liberation Arthur Staggs and Claude Bagein involved themselves in the Resistance by undertaking acts of sabotage to harry the Germans.

Having learnt of his arrest and they hearing nothing more from him, the SOE in London had believed that Arthur Staggs had been killed by the Gestapo. Then, in September 1944, Lt. Arthur Stagg travelled to the Hotel Cecil in Paris. There, he met up with other fellow SOE agents. Vera Atkins - often said to be the 'brains' behind Maurice Buckmaster, Head of SOE 'F Section' in London - reportedly greeted Lt Staggs by saying, "We thought you were dead!"

In November 1998, Arthur Staggs travelled to Lille thinking he would be meeting up with Mlle. Marie Jeanne Bouchez, wartime 'résistante' and former girlfriend of Michael Trotobas and take part in a memorial service for his former SOE colleague. That much was true, but the municipality also took the opportunity to award Arthur Staggs the 'Freedom of the City of Lille'.

To read about this ceremony, click on the following link:
Freedom of the city of Lille for Arthur Staggs

In November 2006, Arthur Staggs was also awarded France's highest honour, the "Legion d'Honneur". To read about this ceremony, click on the following link:
Arthur Staggs awarded the 'Legion d'Honneur'

Sunday, 26 February, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


This article is dedicated to the memory of Michael Trotobas, to the other members of the "Sylvestre Farmer" network and the French Resistance movement in the Lille district during WW2. If the sacrifice of Michael Trotobas and his circuit remains relatively unkown in Britain, the people of Lille and district - where they made a real difference - have always remembered.

There was a heavy price paid for the freedom and independence that the people of Lille have come to know in the post-war years. What was the price of this freedom?

As outlined above, Michael Trotobas was killed in action resisting arrest. Many of the other members of his circuit suffered imprisonment, torture and death camps. Marie Jeanne Bouchez who, as referred to above, was the French girlfriend of Michael Trotobas, spent seven months in prison. There would never be a 'happy ever after' ending for Marie Jeanne Bouchez and Michael Trotobas. Marie Jeanne's mother, Mme. Louise Marie Bouchez (nee Vandervliet), was also arrested and subsequently deported to Ravensbrück prison camp, Germany. Mme. Bouchez was executed at Ravensbrück on 11 April 1945.

Claude Bagein survived imprisonment and torture but died of 'natural causes' within six months of the end of the war, still only in his mid-20s and leaving a young widow, Rose (nee Corneil). Wireless Operator Arthur Staggs returned to Britain after the war and was married to the former Miss Elizabeth Wickson. For several years, from 1946 onwards Arthur Staggs suffered from nervous exhaustion and had to undertake light outdoor work. Thus, it was not always easy to settle down to normal civilian life after the war.

Lille was liberated at the beginning of September 1944. The cost of freedom had been high: paid for with suffering and lives that were cut short before their time. It was a cost that had been paid by instalments throughout the war and for some time afterwards.

For Michael Trotobas (1914 - 1943) and the "Sylvestre Farmer" network of Lille and district during WW2:

"To a valiant heart, nothing is impossible!"

[À cœur vaillant rien d'impossible!]

Sunday, 26 February, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its such a pity that some people cannot get the facts right! Staggs never managed to communicate with SOE after he arrived in France (see MRD Foot SOE in France). He was never arrested by the Gestapo or tortured! He did not return to Lille to meet up with Marie Jeanne Bouchez as he never knew her during the war! There is no "official" record of any Resistance activities by Staggs.

Friday, 22 March, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Update on Arthur Staggs, wartime SOE agent:

Arthur Staggs celebrated his 100th birthday in November 2012. Having recently met with the Duchess of Cornwall, SOE agent Arthur Staggs was also interviwed by BBC TV news. Mr Staggs talks about his role as an agent for the SOE in France, being captured and tortured by the Gestapo and then joining the FFI (French resistance) after being released by the Gestapo.

Click on the following link to view Arthur Stagg's BBC interview:
BBC News interview of WW2 SOE agent Arthur Staggs (Nov 2012)

Friday, 22 March, 2013  
Blogger Peter G said...

Anonymous might usefully go to these links:

Freedom of the city of Lille

Legion d'Honneur

SOE: Lt. Arthur Staggs

Saturday, 23 March, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Mr Arthur Staggs, the radio operator for Michael Trotobas, passed away on 22 August 2013 at 100 years old.

The following link is to the obituary that appeared in the British newspaper, the 'Daily Telegraph':
Arthur Staggs (Daily Telegraph obituary)

Arthur Staggs (1912 - 2013)

Monday, 21 October, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Lille Southern Cemtery:
'Sylvestre-Farmer' Resistance Memorial
(Updated May 2014)

Section 92A of Lille Southern Cemetery has a special memorial for the WW2 'Sylvestre-Farmer' Resistance network [Photograph No. 3 above]. First dedicated on 27 November 1953 to those who lost their lives in the hope that they will not be forgotten. There is also a list of names on the memorial wall.

Fittingly, this is where the Commonwealth War Graves Commission also commemorates Captain Michael Trotobas - "Capitaine Michel". It can be seen on the right-hand side of Photograph No. 3. A close up of the headstone can be seen in Photograph No. 4 (above). The epitaph on the headstone reads as follows:

"In loving memory of my son, "Capitaine Michel", killed in action with the French Resistance."

I placed the poppy cross seen in front of the headstone a personal tribute to 'Capitaine Michel' and the other members of the 'Sylvestre-Farmer' Resistance network who lost their lives during the war. The photographs were taken with the kind permission of the cemetery authorities.

Sunday, 25 May, 2014  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...


I would especially like to thank the Bondues Resistance Museum & Archives and the cemetery keepers at Lille Southern Cemetery for their assistance in researching Captain Michael Trotobas and the 'Sylvestre-Farmer' Resistance network.

Sunday, 25 May, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can only fully endorse the post by Anonymous Friday 22 March 2013. Staggs never went back to Lille until 40 years plus after the war and all the original French members of the FARMER group had passed away because he was not invited to any of the Amicale reunions in Lille and would not have been welcomed. As Anonymous said a pity people can't get their facts right!

Thursday, 08 January, 2015  

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