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Dear Reader #31

Dear Reader,

A lovely week for my books with Sam’s Song reaching #2 on the private investigator’s chart. The book has already reached #1 seven times, which is beyond my expectations 🙂

Great to see that Snow in August is still a Hot 💯 New Release sitting alongside New York Times bestselling author Harlan Coben 🙂

This week I completed the first draft of The Olive Tree: Roots, a Spanish Civil War Saga. The editing of Snow in August, Sam Smith Mystery Series book sixteen is also going well. Both books are available for pre-order.

My research this week centred on Eve’s War, my Special Operations Executive series. I’m studying the lives of twenty-one female agents. Here are the remarkable stories of two of them.

The exact number of Special Operations Executive agents who served in France isn’t known, but the female branch is estimated at forty. The two female agents in my Eve’s War series are a composite of twenty-one of those agents and my stories are based on their real-life experiences.

Giliana Balmaceda

Giliana Balmaceda was the first female agent the SOE sent to occupied France. Born in Chile c1910 she worked as an actress in Paris where she met Victor Gerson, a British citizen and a dealer in fine rugs and carpets.

The couple married and on 18 June 1940, at the signing of the armistice, they escaped to Britain where they joined the SOE.

Victor Gerson suggested creating a network of helpers to assist the entrance and exit of SOE agents assigned to France and Giliana volunteered to assess the possibility.

In May 1941 the SOE sent Giliana into occupied France. She returned through Spain in late June 1941. During her three months in France Giliana travelled freely in Lyons and Vichy, ostensibly on holiday, her Chilean passport securing her passage.

With a large haul of intelligence, contacts and administrative documents, such as ration cards, Giliana returned to Britain. There, the SOE reproduced the documents and subsequently agents used them on their clandestine missions.

Sonya Butt

Sonya Esmée Florence Butt, also known as Sonya d’Artois, was the youngest female SOE agent to serve in France. Born on 14 May 1924, Sonya worked as a courier for the Headmaster network under the code name Blanche.

Sonya Butt

Sonya’s role of courier brought her into contact with German check-points. The SOE preferred female agents as couriers because when travelling around the district on bicycles they were less likely to attract attention compared to males of military or working age.

Sonya joined the SOE, aged 19, on 11 December 1943. Her training included soldiering skills and stamina development, plus specialist skills for her life in occupied France. This training regime was new to women at the time. However, the training was familiar to men, including a French-Canadian army officer, Captain Guy D’Artois, whom Sonya met and later married.

Sonya Butt and Guy D’Artois

On 28 May 1944, the SOE parachuted Sonya into Le Mans to work as a courier. She arrived nine days before D-Day. A fellow agent who landed with her was shot, so Sonya took on his role of weapons instructor. As a courier, she carried money, delivered messages and maintained contact with fellow SOE agents and the French Resistance.

After D-Day, the Allies liberated Sonya’s district. However, before then two German soldiers detained her for questioning. Thankfully, her cover story and false papers withstood the interrogation and she was released.

Sonya Butt

In October 1944, Sonya returned to Britain. She married Guy d’Artois and the couple lived in Canada where they raised six children, three boys and three girls.

Sonya died on 21 December 2014 at the age of 90. It is a remarkable fact that of the twenty-one agents who form the background for my two SOE characters two-thirds of them lived well into their eighties and nineties.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

3 replies on “Dear Reader #31”

Fascinating article – I really enjoyed reading that. There are so many unsung heroes of any war and I love it when authors give them some credit that is always long overdue.

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