Did you know that Eileen Mary Nearne was a war hero? Neither did her neighbors. The soft-spoken 89 year old woman died in 2010 in her home in Torquay, England. That her body went undiscovered for several days and that she was being slated for a “council burial” (pauper’s grave) indicate the hiddenness of her life. And what a life it was. The French government awarded Miss Nearne the Croix de Guerre for her courageous actions during World War II. She helped operate a secret radio from Paris that facilitated weapons drops to the French Resistance, paving the way for D-Day. When she was captured by the Gestapo, the young woman was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was tortured. After being moved to another camp, she escaped and linked up with the American troops. It is a story that begs to be made into a novel, or a least a movie. Not many of our friends or neighbors live lives out of a John le Carre novel, but
Miss Nearne’s death and near anonymity in her neighborhood show how little people often know about the quiet heroism of one another. A co-worker may be caring for an elderly parent, quietly. A neighbor might volunteer at her church, stocking the shelves of a food pantry, silently. The hidden quality of these actions somehow lends them greater dignity, since they are done with no expectation of public adulation. As Henri Nouwen once said, the key is performing acts that are “hidden from the world, but known by God”. That goes for both a reclusive World War II spy and the self effacing parent of an ill child, both of them quiet heroes.