Percy Harratt, nowadays, seems almost totally unknown to anyone, although he had an eventful Second World War, serving with the Special Operations Executive (SOE), first in the D/F Section where he performed several boating operations to the north coast of France to drop and pick up personnel.
He completed over 25 trips across the Channel, taking in 27 agents and bringing back 17. He was later transferred to F Section as an agent attached to “Pedlar”, as second in command and with the field name of “Peter”.
Personal details – Father: John James Harratt. Mother: Florence, Mary, Honor de Saut (or Sant). Educated at Wellington College and Royal Military College. He was 5’ 8’’ tall, 11 stone 4 lbs, colour of hair iron-grey, eyes brown, complexion sallow.
Army Service with the 4th Hussars 1924 – 28, 3 years in India. His service number; 28278. Percy was invalided out of the service in 1928 and then went farming in SW France 1929 – 1936.
He then fought in the Spanish War during 1938 – 1939.
He rejoined the Army in September 1939, Physical fitness A1 and was recommissioned on the 16th September 1939. He undertook various staff jobs, mainly with No 3 Mission to France for obvious reasons.
He then joined SOE on January 1st 1942. His political views were reported as anti-Nazi. MI5 reported: “at one time this officer had definite communist sympathies”. (Hardly surprising considering the time).
With SOE Capt Harratt seems to have organized his boating adventures himself with the help of a naval friend i.e. the acquisition of a boat. With the D/F section he was involved with escape routes.
He was awarded the Military Cross for his service during this period.
On 3rd June 1944, he was transferred to F Section, as an agent, for work in France and left for the Field on the 9th Aug 1944. Interestingly, because of a bad leg, he could not parachute in and had to join his team via Spain crossing the Pyrenees on foot. At over 40 he found this very hard. He finally met up with his “Pedlar” team. Why not take a moment to read Captain Harratt’s report on the ‘Pedlar Mission’, infiltration into France.
In recognition of his service to the SOE when he returned from ‘Pedlar’ he was then awarded a Bar to his Military Cross.
Finally, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his services to the SOE.
Percy, who preferred to be called Peter, was a rather amazing man. I don’t think he was much of a farmer in SW France, but he was undoubtedly a patriot who disliked Germans and liked to be in the thick of things. The Spanish War was a gruesome affair and there can be no doubt where his sympathies lay. I suspect he didn’t like staff jobs and was what one might call an “action man”. He was resourceful and brave and perhaps was not a good regimental soldier. But this last comment is my own.
SOE set little store by rank and Percy was a Lt / T Capt at the beginning of the war and held the same rank at the end! Many in SOE were awarded MCs, but seldom two, and I know of only three Lt Colonels in SOE who were awarded DSOs, namely Heslop, George Starr and the excellent Francis Cammaerts.
Some of the members of SOE, particularly, found it hard to settle down at the end of the war and efforts were made to find jobs for them. I know of an assassin who became a kindly old doctor but had initial difficulties once told it was time to stop. He had to take out one more Japanese, which he did. His victim was a most unpleasant man who had been responsible for many deaths.
For some reason, Percy Harratt joined the Frontier Service in BAOR and sadly he died, still quite young, in an RAF hospital in Germany in 1956.
He was described by Lt Col Maurice Buckmaster (Head of the French Section of SOE) as: “One of the most courageous men I have ever known. Determined and cunning, took the greatest pains to brief himself with the fullest possible information before attempting a job, then carried it out with dash”.
Personally, I can’t help thinking I would have liked to have known Percy John Harratt.
References – Percy is mentioned by Prof. M.R.D. in “SOE in France” and “SOE The Special Operations Executive 1940 – 46”.
(formerly The 4th Queen’s Own Hussars and Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars)