Rée was born in Manchester in 1914, the son of Dr. Alfred Rée, an industrial chemist from a Danish Jewish family, and the American-born Lavinia Elisabeth Dimmick, the great-granddaughter of the chemist and industrialist Eleuthère Irénée du Pont.
After graduating from Cambridge University, Reé taught French and German at Bradford Grammar School. He had developed left-wing politics while at university and was initially a conscientious objector at the outbreak of war, but his views changed the more he learned of the Nazi ideology.
Reé joined the Special Operations as a wireless operator and in 1943 volunteered for active service in occupied Europe. He was posted to France under the code name César to work with the Resistance in Montbéliard, close to the German border, and later as head of the Stockbroker Network active around Belfort.
In late 1943, Reé witnessed an RAF bombing raid on the Peugeot factory at Sochaux. Many of the bombs missed their target, destroying houses and causing heavy civilian casualties. He realised that this was turning public opinion against the Allied cause and argued that targeted sabotage would be much more effective.
With the blessing of the SOE, Reé approached one of Peugeot’s directors and made him an offer: Agree to have your vital machinery sabotaged or have the factory destroyed by British or American bombers. To seal the deal, he was offered compensation by the Allies after the war.
The mission was a stunning success, but the Germans became aware of Reé’s activities and moved to arrest him. Despite being shot four times in the lung, arm, shoulder and side he managed to escape by swimming across a river and crawling four miles through a forest. Rée eventually made his way back to England via Switzerland.
As a result of Reé’s actions, the SOE set up a blackmail sabotage committee which successfully targeted over thirty French factories.
Reé was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, an OBE, Croix De Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance and in 1947 he appeared in the docudrama School for Danger with Jacqueline Nearne who I have written about previously. You can click to view the film on the right.
After the war, Reé returned to teaching and became headmaster of Watford Grammar School and later Professor of Education at York University where he became one of the country’s leading advocates of comprehensive education and was active in the Society for the Promotion of Educational Reform.
In 1974, he returned to the classroom, teaching at Woodberry Down Comprehensive School, London, until his retirement in 1980. He continued to campaign on educational issues, particularly his opposition to the 1988 Education Act.
Reé was modest about his wartime activities, although he did record an oral history for the Imperial War Museum before his death in 1991.