Lise de Baissac, the third of three children of a French family in Mauritius of British nationality, was born on 11 May 1905. The family moved to Paris in 1919 and Lise, who was taught French from an early age, completed her education in Paris. On 11 May 1940, when Paris was occupied by the Germans, her eldest brother, Jean de Baissac, joined the British Army, while Lise and her other brother, Claude, travelled to the south of France with the intention to reach England. Somehow, she obtained help from the American Consulate to cross into Spain and reached Lisbon, where she waited for five months for permission to travel to Gibraltar and finally to the UK. As the ship docked in Scotland, she made her way to London, made contact with Lady Kemsley, who helped Lise to get a job at the Daily Sketch. In the meantime, her brother, Claude, was recruited by the Special Operations Executive, shortly known as SOE.
As the SOE began recruiting women, Lise applied and was speedily accepted for training to set up her own small circuit. She was trained at Beaulieu, Hampshire, with the second group of women recruited by the SOE, which included Mary Herbert, Odette Sansom and Jacqeline Neame. As she was reported to be intelligent, extremely reliable, conscientious and quite imperturbable, Lise de Baissac was commissioned in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) in July 1942.
On the night of September 24 1942, Lise de Baissac and Andre Borrel were among the first female SOE agents to be parachuted into France. Borrell was the first to drop, with Lise de Baissac following in quick succession, landing in the village of Boisrenard near the town of Mer, with the mission to establish a safe house in Poitiers where new agents could be settled. Lise used a number of code names, which included Odile, Irene, Marguerite and Adele. Her cover story was that she was a poor widow from Paris, Madame Irene Brisse, trying to find a suitable refuge from the tensed life in the capital city and to avoid the prevailing food shortages.
She found a small flat on a busy street near the Gestapo HQ and soon became acquainted with the Gestapo chief, Herr Grabowski. She also started to play the role of an amateur archaeologist and in the name of looking for rock specimens, started to bicycle round the Loire countryside, looking for possible landing and dropping zones and building up contacts, who would be prepared to help her. As she was not equipped with a radio to send and receive messages, she had to travel to Paris or Bordeaux; where her brother Claude was organising sabotage missions and gathering information on ship and submarine movements.
From the spring of 1943, she widened her operations, acting as liaison officer and communicating with different networks like, Scientist, Prosper and Bricklayer circuits.
However, when all those networks were penetrated by the Gestapo, Lise, Claude and Major Nicholas Bodington were flown back to England on the night of 16/17 August. After that, Lise was sent to RAF Ringway, as the conducting officer to two new agents, Yvonne Baseden and Violette Szabo. Unfortunately, while assisting them to train in parachuting, Lise de Baissac broke her leg.
However, before she was fit enough to go back to France, she was given the code name Marguerite and dropped by Lysander near Villers-les-Ormes on the night of 9/10 April 1944, to work as a courier in a branch of the Pimento circuit with a rendezvous at Toulouse. The circuit had many useful contacts among railway and industrial workers, but Lise de Baissac came into conflict with the Marquis group in weapons handling, as she believed that the leadership was composed of militant socialists whose main aims were more political rather than patriotic. At her request, she was permitted to join her brother in south Normandy, where his circuit, Scientist, had re-formed and was surveying possible large areas which the airborne troops could hold for a considerable time, while they got themselves established.
The D-Day action messages came through, when Lise was on a trip to Paris.On that day, she had to cycle through streets full of German troops to meet people whom she knew were under Gestapo observation. Sleeping in ditches and keeping to the small roads, it took her three days to return to Normandy. In the second half of June, when the Allied forces were held up at Caen, the Scientist circuit was involved in mining roads and cutting rail and telephone communications and Lise cycled between the groups, often covering 40 miles a day, on her mission to transport arms and explosives and relaying instructions about targets. On one occasion, when the radio set broke down, she and her radio operator cycled to another village for a replacement. While coming back with the crystals for the set and the codes in a belt around her waist, they were stopped and searched by a German soldier. Fortunately for Lise and her comrade, the soldier did not find them and they were allowed to proceed. On another occasion, a party of retreating Germans requisitioned the building, where Lise was living. She was thrown out of her room and when she came back to collect her clothes, she found in her horror that the soldiers had opened her sleeping bag, which was made out of parachute silk and one of them was sitting on it. Fortunately, they had no idea about its implication.
Lise de Baissac worked with her brother in the south of Normandy until the Germans had retreated eastwards and continued her activities until the liberation. When the US troops arrived to liberate the area, she was ready to receive them wearing her FANY uniform, which she had kept hidden for a long time.
She returned to England in September 1944 and took part in the parade of the VE Day or Victory in Europe day, marking the Allied victory in Europe in 1945 and was received by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. She was appointed MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1945 and was, in addition, made a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme. After the war she worked for the French Service of the BBC as a programme assistant, announcer and translator. She married Gustave Villameur, an artist and interior decorator in 1950 and lived in Marseille and St Tropez. She was named as the vice-president of the Association France-Grande Bretagne in Marseille, which continued for many years. She retained her graceful elegance and dignified poise into great old age. She did not have any issue and died on 29 March 2004, at the age of 98.