Mr. Jack Wolff

The Daily Telegraph 10th November 2004

SOE operative who fought behind enemy lines in northern Europe and also took part in the Normandy landings

Jack Wolff, who has died aged 88, joined the SOE from the Intelligence Corps and operated behind enemy lines in the Second World War.

Wolff enlisted in the Special Operations Executive in 1943 and was responsible for SOE and French Resistance units in France, Belgium and Holland. Promoted major the following year, he was second-in-command of an SOE unit at the D-Day Landings.

Wolff went ahead of the Allied advance to link up with Belgian and Dutch resistance fighters whom he brought back to Army HQ and worked closely with. Shortly after his parachute drop at Arnhem, he returned from addressing the forward troops to discover that the lorry which served as his office had received a direct hit from a shell. It was burnt out, and the duty sergeant who had been sitting there was killed. After the German capitulation, Wolff and his detachment of special forces moved to Norway, where he worked with the Norwegians in the task of hunting down quislings.

Jack Clifford Wolff was born in Hong Kong on March 9 1916 and educated at Beaumont College. He learnt French in Paris before starting work with the family firm, Rudolf Wolff, the oldest and largest firm of metal brokers in Europe. His grandfather was a founder member of the London Metal Exchange.

At the outbreak of war, he returned to England to enlist. He heard a radio appeal for foreign language speakers and was taken on by the Field Security Police (FSP), a counter-espionage organisation. The training, at Mychett, near Aldershot, was based on First World War practices. One of the operations that he studied was the Dames Blanches organisation in Brussels. This consisted of a number of Belgian ladies who counted the passing troop trains as they knitted at their windows, thus providing material for estimating the strength of the German forces moving to the front. Malcolm Muggeridge was a fellow member of the FSP at Mychett.

Wolff rose to the rank of sergeant-major and went to France as second-in-command of a small unit equipped with motorbikes. He was recommended for officer training and so was not involved in Dunkirk. After returning to England, he was commissioned in May 1940. He transferred to the newly formed Intelligence Corps and was posted to HQ Southern Command where he was based at Wilton House, near Salisbury, the home of the Herbert family. In 1942 he embarked on the troopship Otranto and took part in the invasion of French-occupied North Africa. As the landing craft approached the beach, he leapt from the lowered ramp shouting to his men, “Follow me!” before disappearing beneath the waves. Dripping with seaweed, he struggled ashore, where his men, dry shod, awaited him.

Wolff was put in command of a lorryload of soldiers and ordered to take them to Maison Blanche Aerodrome near Algiers. They were stopped by a detachment of Vichy French whose allegiance was in doubt but they arrived without being fired on and secured the airfield for use by Blenheim light bombers.

Shortly after Wolff was appointed ADC to General “Jumbo” Maitland Wilson, Churchill arrived and addressed the troops at the Roman auditorium at Carthage. Wolff recalled that the Prime Minister was then driven to a villa where he was to have lunch. There he changed into a bathrobe, waddled down to the beach, stripped off and paddled naked into the water. The assembled generals and staff officers looked questioningly at each another for a moment and then followed suit.

After the end of the campaign in North Africa, Wolff joined SOE and served with them until the end of the war. For his service at Army HQ, he was appointed MBE and received the Belgian Croix de Guerre with palm. He was also appointed an Officer of the Order of Leopold II and an Officer of the Order of Orange Nassau.

Wolff was demobilised at the end of the war and joined Associated Lead. When the London Metal Exchange reopened in the 1950s, he returned to Rudolf Wolff as a partner and director, and worked in the firm with his brother, Freddy, the chairman of the Exchange, until his retirement.

He was a handsome man of great charm who was always very modest about his achievements. At the time of his death he was the oldest surviving Captain of Sunningdale Golf Club, where he played regularly until he was well into his eighties. For the last 20 years of his life he was a trustee of Windlesham Arboretum Charitable Trust.

Jack Wolff died on September 16. He married, in 1943, Mary Clifford, the elder daughter of the 12th Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. She predeceased him, and he is survived by their two daughters.