O'Sullivan, Maureen Patricia (‘Paddy’) (1918–p. 1950), undercover agent, was born 3 January 1918 in Dublin, daughter of John O'Sullivan, journalist, and his English wife, Adelaide (née Redmond), who died when Maureen was a year old. She briefly attended St Louis' convent in Dublin, before being sent to live, at the age of seven, with an aunt in Belgium. Most of her formative years were spent in Belgium, where she attended the Convent des Soeurs Paulines in Courtrai, the Athenée Royale in Ostend, the Ursuline Convent in Bruges, and (from age 18) the École de Puériculture in Brussels. Prior to this she spent a short time (aged 15) at the Rathmines Commercial College, Dublin, and at the Mademoiselle de France private school in Paris. Her education left her not just bilingual in French and English, but proficient in Dutch and Flemish and with a working knowledge of German. This linguistic ability was her main qualification for her subsequent career as an undercover agent.
In January 1939 she started two years' training as a nurse in Highgate Hospital, London. Her father lived at 2 Charleville Road, Rathmines, Dublin, and ‘Paddy’ (as she was known) could have spent the war safely in Ireland, but preferred to enlist for service. In July 1941 she joined the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force), and by May 1943 was serving as acting corporal at RAF Compton Bassett, when she was accepted for SOE (Special Overseas Executive) training. The SOE was an underground operation set up by Churchill in 1940 ‘to coordinate all action by way of subversion and sabotage against the enemy overseas’ (Binney, xiii). O'Sullivan attended training school in Winterfold in Surrey, where they reported that she was pleasant, purposeful, independent, and able to manage people, but had little mechanical or practical sense, and was accident-prone. The report from her next training camp – a paramilitary school in Scotland – was less positive. She was held to be stubborn and undisciplined, with an ungovernable temper and no team spirit. At the Wireless Training School in Thame Park, London, where she was sent in October 1943, she was also judged undisciplined, but was popular with other students. In March 1944 she was finally sent on mission, and was dropped into a field in Limoges, France, with two wireless sets and twenty-two containers of arms to distribute to the resistance. Landing heavily on her back, she passed out but was woken by a cow breathing in her face.
Her circuit commander, Maj. Teddy Meyer, was originally furious that London had sent him a girl and unimpressed with her skills: she was unsystematic, could hardly change a fuse, and could not even ride a bicycle. This was an essential skill since, as a wireless operator, O'Sullivan had to be constantly on the move, doing rounds of the wireless sets which were hidden in different safe houses. However, she soon learned to cycle, and proved a competent operator and resourceful agent. She made up her own cover story – that of a Belgian girl searching for her husband – and adapted well. On one occasion she was stopped at a roadblock with a wireless set strapped to her bicycle in a suitcase. The guard was about to search it, when a German lieutenant appeared and remarked that she looked like a Fraülein (she was red-haired and good-looking). In a mixture of Flemish and German, O'Sullivan replied that her mother was German and arranged a date with the lieutenant the next day. The suitcase was forgotten.
After six months she returned to England and was the subject of articles in the Daily Mail and the Sunday Express in March 1945, making her one of the first SOE female agents to receive publicity. Her superiors were not pleased at this exposure. In June 1945 she was posted to Calcutta as a liaison officer with the French. Her story again appeared in the local press. On 4 September 1945 she was awarded the MBE. Shortly afterwards she married an English engineer, Walter Eric Alvey, and moved to Burma. The couple had two sons and, after a number of years, returned to England to raise them. However, the marriage broke up, and O'Sullivan disappears from the historical record c.1950.