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George Reginald Starr

George Reginald Starr

George Reginald Starr was a son of Ethel Renshaw, (the third daughter of William Robert Renshaw) and of Alfred Demarest Starr, a book keeper from the United States who became a naturalised British subject.

George was born in April 1904. After a public school education at Ardingley School in Sussex, at the age of 16 he resisted family pressure to join the Renshaw engineering firm, and instead undertook a seven year apprenticeship as a coal miner in Shropshire. He then studied mining engineering at the Royal School of Mines, at Imperial College, London, before joining the Glasgow firm of Mavor & Coulson Ltd, manufacturers of mining equipment. His work was then to take him all over Europe, installing mining machinery. In 1940 he was in Liege, Belgium when the German invasion began and escaped back to England with British forces via Dunkirk, returning to his parents' home in Newcastle-u-Lyme. His Spanish wife, whom he had married in 1935, was living in Barcelona. He joined the army and was commissioned into the S.O.E.

In November 1942, shortly before German forces began their occupation of the Vichy Republic, he arrived secretly by boat on the Mediterranean coast of France, incidentally meeting his brother John who was by then returning from his first mission. Based in Castelnau, posing as a retired Belgian mining engineer, he successfully organised a resistance network in the south-west corner of France, between Toulouse, Bordeaux and the Pyrenees (the 'Wheelright' sector).

On D-Day his network proved highly effective, disrupting communications, destroying fuel dumps, and harrassing German forces which were en-route to Normandy, including the SS 'Das Reich' division. He personally led the column of resistance forces which drove into Toulouse as the Germans fled. While there, he arranged (in the face of strong French opposition) the transfer to Farnborough of a captured Heinkel He-177A-5 jet bomber which the Germans had abandoned. In September 1944, General de Gaulle, afraid of his enormous popularity, gave him 12 hours to either leave France or face arrest. He refused, and made use of the occasion to impress the General with his extensive knowledge of vernacular French. After seeking instructions from London he stayed for another nine days. He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order, the Military Cross, and despite his earlier disagreement with De Gaulle, the Croix de Guerre Avec Palme by the French Government. He was also made an officer of the Légion d'Honneur. The United States Government awarded him the Medal of Freedom with Silver Bar. He finished the war with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

After the war he was sent to Essen in the Ruhr district to direct the re-opening of the German coal mines and had to deal with all kinds of contraband stored in the mines, including stolen art, drugs and medical supplies.

He later returned to Mavor & Coulson as managing director before retiring to live in France. He died in hospital at Chantilly in 1980.