Who was George Reginald Starr?
George Reginald Starr was a British mining engineer who contributed extensively in the Second World War. Absorbed as a Special Operations Executive’s (SOE) secret agent due to his language skills, Starr went on to become one of the best secret agents that the SOE had. His admission as a secret agent came unexpectedly. Originally trained as a mining engineer, Starr was working in Belgium when the German invasion began. Though he escaped to England successfully, he soon found himself embroiled in the military SOE group. Under the code name ‘Hilaire’, Starr major task was to organize, arm and train people willing to fight the German army. His greatest achievement came when he successfully persuaded the communist and anti-communist members of the French resistance to work together. Starr set up a highly successful Wheelwright resistance network around Bordeaux, Toulouse and Pyrenees in southern France. In the spring of 1944, he formed the Armagnac group that harassed the Germans by disrupting communication, cutting telephone wires, blowing railway lines and sabotaging power lines for many days at a stretch. He ended the war with the rank of lieutenant colonel. For his outstanding contribution in World War II, he was conferred with many prestigious honors and medals.
Childhood & Early Life
George Reginald Starr was born on April 6, 1904, to Alfred Demarest Starr and Ethel Renshaw, in London. While his father was an American, his mother was an Englishwoman. He was one of the two sons born to the couple.
Young Starr completed his early education from Ardingly College. Following his studies, he apprenticed for seven years as a coal miner in Shropshire.
Having gained enough experience, he resumed his studies at the Royal School of Mines later followed by Imperial College London. He soon attained his degree in mining engineering.
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Upon completing studies, Starr started working for the Glasgow firm of Mavor and Coulson Ltd. The company dealt with manufacturing mining equipment.
As a mining engineer, he spent the greater part of the 1920s and 1930s traveling to northern side of France and Belgium for work purpose.
In 1940, when the German invasion commenced, Starr was working in Liege, Belgium. With the help of British forces, he escaped to England. Following the Dunkirk evacuation, he joined the British Army. His language skills earned him a place in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) department. Starr worked under the code name Hilaire.
As an SOE secret agent, he was sent to France in 1942 to help in the resistance. Starr posed as a retired Belgian mining engineer who had become rich in the Congo. This made the large sum of money that he had and his unusual accent imperceptible to the German invaders.
Based in Castelnau-sur-l'Auvignon, he spied on the German 11th Tank Division situated near Bordeaux. Under his hoaxed identity, he successfully organised a ‘Wheelwright’ French Resistance network in the southwest corner of France, between Toulouse, Bordeaux and the Pyrenees
Little did the German invaders anticipate that a retired Belgian mining engineering would impair their schemes and plans! Under Starr, the group not just cut German invaders telephone wires and power lines but even sabotaged their power stations.
Starr successfully persuaded anti-communist and communist resistance members of the French resistance to fight against the German invaders by joining hands with the British forces.
In 1944, he created an armed group by the name, Armagnac Battalion in Toulouse. The group came into action right before the Normandy Invasion, blowing up railway lines, cutting telephone wires, sabotaging fuel damps and disrupting all communication process.
In addition to breaking communication and transportation lines, the main campaign for Starr’s group came when the Second SS Panzer division 'Das Reich' tried to move from Montauban, near Toulouse, to reinforce the Normandy battlefield. Furthermore, his group of resistance fighters forced the SS Panzer division to fight their way north which made the latter arrive far too late to attack the Allied invasion beaches.
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By September 1944, he was controlling the French Toulouse area. While on a visit to the region, Charles de Gaulle, leader of the free French, was greatly annoyed by the German evacuation and subsequently vented his anger by getting into an argument with Starr. The two eventually made up their differences.
At the time the war ended, Starr served the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Post war, he was given the task of re-building the German coal mining industry. For the same, he was sent to Essen in the Ruhr district.
Following the re-establishment of German coal mines, Starr returned to where he had originally started, Mavor and Coulson. He took up the chair of the managing director of the company. Following his retirement, he moved to France.
Starr’s most notable contribution in his life came as a Special Operations Executive agent in France during Second World War. Under the code name ‘Hilaire’, he set up a highly successful Wheelwright resistance network around Bordeaux, Toulouse and Pyrenees in southern France that dampened the German spirit completely. Along with his troops, he harassed the Germans by disrupting communication, cutting telephone wires, blowing railway lines and sabotaging power lines for many days at a stretch.
Awards & Achievements
For his outstanding contribution as the Special Operations Executive agent against the German forces, Starr was decorated with highly esteemed military honors including Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross and Croix de Guerre Avec Palme.
France bestowed upon him one of the greatest state honors, Officer of the Légion d'honneur.
The United States of America awarded Starr with the Medal of Freedom with Silver Bar for being one of SOE’s best secret agents.
Personal Life & Legacy
Starr breathed his last in a hospital in Senlis, France on September 2, 1980.
This British mining engineer served as a secret agent under the code name Hilaire for Special Operations Executive during Second World War.