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John Kenneth Macalister (July 19, 1914, Guelph, Ontario, Canada - September 14, 1944, Buchenwald) was a Canadian hero of World War II.

Ken Macalister graduated the Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute (GCVI) and from the University of Toronto, then as a Rhodes Scholar studied at Oxford University. He was expanding his education further at the Institute of Corporate Law in Paris, France when World War II began in 1939. When he took the bar exam, Macalister placed first among over 150 candidates in the British Empire. Macalister tried to join the infantry but his eyesight was such that he needed thick glasses and as such could not be placed on active duty. However, fluent in the French language, Macalister volunteered for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) F Section where as an agent in France, his thick glasses would actually add to his disguise.

Together with fellow Canadian, Frank Pickersgill, Ken Macalister was parachuted into occupied France on June 20, 1943 to work as wireless operator for the "Archdeacon" network in the Ardennes area. They were met by agent Yvonne Rudellat, but were stopped by the Gestapo who had been tipped by an informer. Some believe that the Germans recognized him as an agent by virtue of his rather poor French accent. Although they tried to get away, shots were fired and Rudellat was hit causing the car to crash. They were taken to Fresnes prison where they were interrogated and tortured repeatedly. Macalister steadfastly refused to reveal his security checks to the Germans who had his codes and were anxious to send misleading messages back to the SOE's London headquarters. Macalister gave his interrogators nothing and when his captors tried to send messages, SOE recognized them as fake.

Unable to get anything of value from him, the security forces shipped Macalister, along with Frank Pickersgill and Roméo Sabourin to Buchenwald concentration camp on August 27, 1944. They were known as the Robert Benoist group, executed at Buchenwald on September 14, 1944. Captain Ken Macalister is honored on the Brookwood Memorial, Surrey in Brookwood, Surrey, England and as one of the SOE agents who died for the liberation of France, he is listed on the "Roll of Honor" on the Valençay SOE Memorial in the town of Valençay, in the Indre département of France. In Guelph, there’s a park named after him with a maple tree representing his time in Canada, an oak his British sojourn, and a linden his time in France. The University of Toronto has designated a Pickersgill-Macalister garden on the west side of the "Soldiers' Tower" monument.

Further readingEdit

  • His story, and that of Jack Pickersgill is told in Unlikely Soldiers: How Two Canadians Fought the Secret War Against Nazi Occupation, by Jonathan Vance (HarperCollins, 2008). This book uses material from SOE files to tell the story of their endeavours.

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