Pearl’s second assignment, in Portsmouth, was more successful than her first. In this assignment, as Patricia Winter, she had to discover details about the town and recruit possible members of her network. In France this task carried great risks because of potential informers and collaborators. Pearl’s cover story – she had had a row with her ‘boyfriend ‘ was deemed unsatisfactory. In general the SOE training course was detailed and thorough, but it does seem light in regard to the practical assignments.
26.8.1943. Pearl received a negative report. The assessor described her as possessing ‘average intelligence’, ‘slow’, ‘cautious’ and ‘shy’.
I don’t think Pearl would have disagreed with any of those assessments. However, it is worth recalling her background.
Pearl’s father, an alcoholic, died when she was young while her mother had health issues. As the eldest child, Pearl ran the family home from an early age. She was denied schooling until her teenage years. This upbringing certainly shaped her personality. In the field, however, her cautious character proved an asset because it helped her to survive. Indeed, Pearl’s childhood was all about scrambling and surviving, and those real-life experiences served her well as an agent.
The assessor also considered that Pearl was not leadership material. In that assessment he made a mistake because a year later in France Pearl led a Resistance network of 4,000 men, the only woman to attain such a position.
Pearl prepares for her parachute training.
6.9.1943. Pearl’s parachute jumps, two by day, one by night, all successfully completed. Pearl was anxious about the jumps, but talked her fears through. Her descent was the fastest of any female on the course, but she took the shock well. She was ‘physically much stronger than she looked’. And that was Pearl in essence, a woman who was mentally and physically much stronger than she looked. The Nazis also underestimated her, to their cost.
Pearl signs the Official Secrets Act.