Tag Archives: France

Dear Reader #42

Dear Reader,

My personal top ten this week.

My publishing schedule for 2020

*March: Snow in August, Sam Smith Mystery Series book sixteen

*June: The Olive Tree: Roots, A Spanish Civil War Saga

*June: Operation Zigzag, Eve’s War Heroines of SOE

*August: Operation Locksmith, Eve’s War Heroines of SOE

*September: Looking for Rosanna Mee, Sam Smith Mystery Series book seventeen

October: Operation Broadsword, Eve’s War Heroines of SOE

November: The Olive Tree: Branches, A Spanish Civil War Saga

December: Operation Treasure, Eve’s War Heroines of SOE

* Currently available to order or pre-order

https://www.amazon.com/Hannah-Howe/e/B00OK7E24E/

As mentioned above, my latest Sam Smith Mystery is now available for pre-order 🙂

Aged twenty-one, Rosanna Mee was housebound, severely agoraphobic. Yet, when Faye and I arrived at her flat to deliver legal papers we could not find her. She’d disappeared. How could a woman who had not travelled from her home in three years simply disappear? That was the first in a series of questions that led us into the world of bodybuilding, fraud and murder.

Meanwhile, the kaleidoscope of my life continued to change. As the picture settled I discovered that I was saying goodbye to a friend, hello to a new office and facing a development that would totally transform my personal life.

https://books2read.com/u/banLVv

Sam has new readers, in Peru 🙂

Pictured, Cusco, capital of the Incan Empire

My merchandiser produced a Hannah Howe calendar. This is the image for March, the Rakotz bridge in Kromlau, Germany.

Andre Hue is one of the inspirations for Guy Samson, my male SOE agent in Eve’s War. Andre was born a few miles from my home in Wales to a Welsh mother and French father. An interesting fact about Andre’s parents is when they met and married Andre’s mother, Caroline Hunter, could not speak French while his father, also Andre, could not speak English. Obviously, they communicated through the greatest universal language of all, love.

This picture was taken from Andre’s fake ID card issued by the SOE in June 1944

I managed to get hold of a ‘top secret’ document from 1944 that details the Special Operations Executive’s contribution to Operation Overlord. I will be using these details in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series.

I have a wealth of archive material for this series. However, it’s estimated that 85% of the SOE’s records were destroyed in a suspicious fire and there is speculation that that fire was started deliberately so that the records would be forever hidden from the public’s gaze.

Local views of Sger beach this week

Women of Courage Heroines of SOE 

Yvonne Cormeau, born Beatrice Yvonne Biesterfeld on 18 December 1909, served the SOE as a wireless operator for the Wheelwright network under the code name Annette. She operated in southwestern France from August 1943 until the liberation of France in September 1944. Yvonne was an unusual SOE agent in that she was a mother.

The SOE acclaimed Yvonne for the quality and quantity of her wireless transmissions. Wireless operators were vulnerable to detection and capture, often within weeks of landing. Nevertheless, she performed her duties with great courage and skill for over a year.

Yvonne Cormeau

Educated in Belgium and Scotland, Yvonne was living in London in 1937 when she married Charles Emile Cormeau, a chartered accountant. Charles enlisted in the Rifle Brigade and, in 1940, was wounded in France. Tragically, he was killed shortly after his return to London when the Nazis bombed his home. Yvonne survived the bombing when a bathtub fell over her and protected her head. However, her unborn baby did not survive.

Yvonne sent her two-year-old daughter Yvette into the countryside for her own safety. Then she decided to “take her husband’s place in the Armed Forces”. She joined the WAAF as an administrator in November 1941. From there the SOE recruited her to train as a wireless operator. After much agonising and fearing that she might make her daughter an orphan, she joined the organisation on 15 February 1943. 

With Yvette in a convent, where she remained until she was five, Yvonne parachuted into France, arriving on 23 August 1943. In common with many agents, she declined to take a cyanide pill with her to commit suicide if captured. The SOE issued her with a .22 revolver, but she did not carry the firearm because discovery of a weapon could lead to instant execution.

Wireless operators transmitted an average of twelve words per minute in Morse code. However, Yvonne averaged twenty words per minute. This meant she was a very talented “pianist”, SOE slang for wireless operators.

Yvonne also worked as a courier, cycling 50 kilometres on regular occasions. As a “district nurse” Yvonne travelled the countryside avoiding the Nazis and the dreaded Milice, a radical and brutal branch of the French police.

A “wanted” poster in Yvonne’s neighbourhood offered an accurate description of her appearance, heightening the danger. On one occasion, the Nazis stopped her at gunpoint at a roadblock. Eventually, they accepted her false papers and her story, passing her wireless equipment off as an X-ray machine.

M.R.D. Foot, the official historian of the SOE said of Yvonne, “She was a perfectly unobtrusive and secure craftswoman. She broke one of the strictest rules of wireless security – i.e. always keep on the move – with success: she transmitted for six consecutive months from the same house. She could see for three miles from the window where she worked, which was one safeguard; a more effective one was that there was no running water in the village, so the Germans who knew there was an English wireless operator somewhere close by never thought of looking for her there.”

Bloodstained dress and briefcase of Yvonne Cormeau on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum

Yvonne assisted in the cutting of power and telephone lines, resulting in the isolation of the Wehrmacht Group G garrison near Toulouse. In June 1944, she was shot in the leg while escaping from a Nazi attack on Castelnau, but managed to rescue her wireless. The dress she wore on that occasion and the bloodstained briefcase she carried are on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum in London along with her WAAF officer’s uniform.

After the war, Yvonne worked as a translator in the SOE section at the Foreign Office. She also became a leading organiser of veterans’ reunions. Reunited with her daughter, Yvette, she lived in London.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Dear Reader #40

Dear Reader,

My personal top ten this week with Mind Games making the biggest leap up the charts.

The proof copy of Snow in August, which arrived this week.

Authors take two basic approaches to long-running series. 1. The lead characters remain exactly the same (Columbo is a good example of this). 2. The lead characters develop over time. My Sam Smith Mystery Series slots into the second category.

Looking for Rosanna Mee, book seventeen in the series, will see a development of Faye’s character. Sam will narrate, but Faye will lead the investigation. This will also be an ‘Alan story’ with the psychological aspect well to the fore.

Looking for Rosanna Mee will be available for pre-order shortly and the book will be published later this year.

I’m writing The Olive Tree, A Spanish Civil War Saga. In book one, Roots, Prince Nicolas Esteban invites author Naomi Parker to dinner. What should she wear? She decides on this dress by Madeleine Vionnet.

Recently, I enjoyed Dangerous Crossing, a 1953 film noir mystery, on DVD. Directed by Joseph M. Newman and starring Jeanne Crain and Michael Rennie, the movie was based on the 1943 play Cabin B-13 by John Dickson Carr.

The plot centres on the gaslighting of Jeanne Crain’s character as she embarks upon a honeymoon cruise.

A low-budget movie devoid of special effects, Dangerous Crossing relies on strong characterisation and a genuinely suspenseful plot.

Jeanne Crain is an attractive heroine who features in almost every scene while Michael Rennie lends solid support. To see the best of Jeanne Crain, however, I recommend Leave Her to Heaven where she excels in her trademark ‘girl next door’ role.

Research Makes Writing Easier

In Eve’s War, Guy Samson, my male SOE agent, is loosely based on three people. Guy has a Welsh mother and French father, but these people did not have that background.

While researching the area where my SOE agents will operate, Brittany, I discovered another agent, Andre Hue, who had a Welsh mother and French father. This coincidence completes the circle and makes Guy’s character much stronger. And strong characters make the task of writing so much easier.

Pictured: the ancient links between Brittany and Wales.

I completed the storyboarding for Operation Locksmith this week, fifteen A3 pages of squiggles. In Operation Locksmith, Eve, Guy and Mimi train to become SOE agents, but is there a traitor in the camp?

Meanwhile, it’s lovely to see that Operation Zigzag is keeping company with Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series 🙂

https://books2read.com/u/mKDDyv

Women of Courage Heroines of SOE

Maureen Patricia ‘Paddy’ O’Sullivan was born in Dublin on 3 January 1918 the daughter of journalist John Aloysius O’Sullivan (1873–1949) and Johanna Repen (1889–1919), who died when Paddy was only 15 months old.

At the age of seven Paddy was sent to live with an aunt in Belgium where she attended a convent school in Cortrai. At the beginning of the war she worked as a nurse in Highgate Hospital, London. She joined the WAAF on 7 July 1941 as an Aircraft Handler General Duties, and was later promoted to Section Officer. Her SOE report lists that her hobbies included reading, psychology and walking.

Paddy’s trainers had mixed views of her. She could be stubborn and prone to temper. However, others regarded her as kind-hearted and able.

As a member of the SOE, Paddy parachuted into Limoges on 23 March 1944. Falling through the fog, she landed heavily, sustaining a concussion. She awoke to find a cow breathing on her face. Later, she said that the two million francs strapped to her back, money to fund SOE and Resistance activities, saved her life.

As Micheline Marcelle Simonet, Paddy’s cover story revealed that she was a ‘dame de compagnie’ of a doctor in Paris. She was taking  one month’s leave to look for a lost Belgian parent in Creuse. Her documents, including a letter from the doctor, were good. However, the month-long limitation was a strange decision by the SOE because the intention was for Paddy to remain in the area for considerably longer than that. In the event, she changed her cover story and became the friend of a school-teacher’s wife – the school-teacher was a leader of the local Resistance.

On one occasion, Paddy was stopped by the Gestapo while transporting her wireless, which was hidden in a suitcase. In passable German, she flirted with the officer, made a ‘date’ for the following evening, then escaped, the suitcase forgotten by the lusting officer.

After noble and brave service, Paddy returned to Britain on 5 October 1944. 

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Dear Reader #38

Dear Reader,

This week, Betrayal reached #1 on the Amazon charts for the ninth time while all five books in my Ann’s War Mystery Series reached the top forty. Therefore, Ann dominates my personal sales chart today.

My latest translation, another wonderful contribution from Adriana.

Operation Zigzag entered the Hot 💯 the day it was made available for pre-order and I’m delighted that the book is still in the Hot 💯 

The writing is going extremely well. It’s been fascinating learning about the mean streets of Marseille, the railway network and the social customs of the time.

I write the books I want to read and I can’t wait to write and read the next chapter 🙂

https://books2read.com/u/mKDDyv

Fort Saint-John in Marseille. Allied prisoners of war were held here.

In Operation Zigzag, set in December 1943, the Resistance ask Eve to spring Zigzag from this prison and escort him to the relative safety of Spain.

From 1940-2 the Germans and Allies had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ whereby the prisoners were allowed to wander around Marseille by day as long as they returned to the prison at night. Both sides honoured this agreement. However, when the Gestapo arrived in Marseille in November 1943 fascist barbarity replaced civilisation.

My 2020 writing schedule includes two Sam Smith mysteries, two Olive Tree Spanish Civil War novellas, two Eve’s War Heroines of SOE novellas and Pearl of the SOE. These books will be published this year, starting in March, although Pearl of the SOE is scheduled for 2021.

This is a demanding, but exciting schedule. My notebooks are full of novel and series ideas, which I hope to develop in due course.

Along with translations and audiobooks, these stories will be my main writing and publishing focus for the foreseeable future.

The cover for my forthcoming dramatised biography of Pearl Witherington the only woman to lead a Marquis group (of approximately 4,000 men) during the SOE’s fight against fascism.

Unknown to the general public, the SOE’s offices were on Baker Street, home of course to the fictional Sherlock Holmes, and immortalised in this classic Gerry Rafferty song.

Women of Courage Heroines of SOE

Alix Marrier d’Unienville was born on 8 May 1918 in Mauritius. Her parents, wealthy French aristocrats, moved back to France, to a chateau near Vannes, when she was six.

In 1940, with her dual French and British citizenship, Alix escaped to Britain where she wrote propaganda leaflets in the Free French headquarters at Carlton Gardens, London.

Recruited by the SOE, Alix began her training in June 1943. On 31 March 1944, she parachuted into Loir-et-Cher from a Halifax aircraft with millions of francs to distribute to the Resistance.

Under the alias of Aline Bavelan, her cover story stated that she was born on the island of Réunion in 1922 (the SOE making her four years younger), moved to France in 1938 to study and now was the wife of a prisoner-of-war. Clandestinely, her main mission in France was to organise messages for the Free French in Paris.

Alix worked in Paris under the code names Myrtil and Marie-France. She was successful until 6 June 1944 when the Gestapo arrested her in Paris. At Avenue Foch, where she was interrogated, the Gestapo found her cyanide pill.

Held in Fresnes Prison, in solitary confinement, Alix pretended to be mentally ill in the hope that the Gestapo would transfer her to Saint-Anne hospital. However, instead they transferred her to La Pitié a place known for its brutal atrocities. There, she continued her pretence, drawing inspiration from a family servant who had suffered from psychological problems. The secret, Alix reasoned, was never to look people in the eyes.

Transferred again, to a prison camp at Romainville, Alix plotted her escape with another prisoner, Annie Hervé. Their plan was to escape over the prison walls using a rope made from black curtains. Alix abandoned her plan when the Gestapo deported Annie Hervé to Germany. 

Throughout her time in captivity, the Gestapo were deeply suspicious of Alix. Indeed, all the clues pointed to her being an agent, yet they never put all the pieces together. Although she existed in squalid conditions on merge rations, she remained physically and mentally strong, strong enough to continually outwit her enemy.

On 15 August 1944, with the Allies approaching, Alix was in the last convoy travelling from Romainville to Germany when she reached Marne. There, the Allies had destroyed the railway bridge, so the Gestapo ordered the prisoners to cross a road bridge. 

In the town square, the prisoners spied a fountain. They ran towards the fountain to drink while the guards ran after them to haul them back. Sensing her opportunity, Alix escaped. At first, she entered a house. The occupants were sympathetic and offered her temporary shelter. Later, she hid in a meadow and after that with a woodcutter and his family before the advancing Americans liberated her. Free, she returned in a jeep to Paris.

After the war, Alix was employed as a war correspondent for US forces in south-east Asia. Then she worked as an air hostess for Air France. Putting her dramatic life experiences to good use, she became an accomplished writer of fiction and nonfiction producing several quality books.

In keeping with many of the female SOE agents who survived the war, Alix lived into her nineties. She died in Paris on 10 November 2015, aged 97.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Dear Reader #37

Dear Reader,

My top ten this week, which features Sam, Ann and Grace. Many thanks to everyone who supports my books.

Sam now has readers in Latvia, Slovakia and Switzerland.

To date, I have readers in America, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, El Salvador, England, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland. Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Wales.

My aim is to reach more of these readers, in as many languages as possible. Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this quest.

Following the career of SOE agent Pearl Witherington, a truly remarkable woman and an inspiration for my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series.

From Pearl’s SOE file, her training notes on codes and cyphers.

Pearl’s keywords ‘fou tez moi la paix’ sound very much like her personal selection and offer a direct plea to her instructors to accept her as an agent…’give me a break’.

Read more about Pearl at the SOE here https://hannah-howe.com/eves-war/pearl-witherington-soe-reports/

In association with Mom’s Favorite Reads and NeoLeaf Press I’m delighted to feature in the Strong Women anthology.

The anthology features many fabulous authors along with my Sam Smith short story Over the Edge.

The anthology is currently available for pre-order at the offer price of 0.99. More details via this universal link.

https://books2read.com/u/bwv7A0

A modern picture of Eve and Michel Beringar’s penthouse apartment at the Canebiere, Marseille, one of several homes owned or rented by the couple.

Chapter One of Operation Zigzag takes place in this apartment when a member of the Resistance asks Eve to assist them in springing Zigzag from a Gestapo prison before escorting him to the relative safety of Spain.

https://books2read.com/u/mKDDyv

With the first draft of Operation Zigzag complete, this afternoon I created the character profiles for book two, Operation Locksmith. In Locksmith, the SOE recruit Eve and she undergoes training. Her training is based on the SOE manual of 1943 and includes how to fire hand guns and machine guns, plant bombs, martial arts, climb mountains, run cross country, overcome obstacle courses and pick locks.

During her training, Eve meets Guy Samson and Mimi Duchamp, two agents who will play significant roles in her life, plus Major-General Cunningham and Vera Penrose, the ‘father’ and ‘mother’ of SOE. She also encounters a psychiatrist, who probes her mind, and Major McAllister, an SOE instructor whom she takes an instant dislike to.

There’s a fair amount of humour in this story, which will make it even more fun to write.

The sort of people I’m writing about right now.

Meet me at the station underneath the clock

Carry an umbrella, no need to talk

The man in the homburg, hiding in the fog
Will be watching

Get yourself a ticket, go through the gate

At seven forty-five precisely, don’t be late

If anybody follows don’t hesitate

Keep on walking

And take the night train to Munich

Rumbling down the track

After half an hour in the restaurant car

Look for the conductor

And there will be a stain on his tunic

A paper underneath his arm

Then you’d better pray that he doesn’t look away

Or you’ll never, never, never come back.

When you get the paper take a look inside

On page twenty-seven there’s a photo of a bride

Underneath the story of a man who died

In Morocco

Memorize the article word for word

The man in the homburg understands the code

Make sure the conversation isn’t overheard

They’re around you

And take the night train to Munich

Rumbling down the track

After half an hour in the restaurant car

Look for the conductor

And there will be a stain on his tunic

A paper underneath his arm

Then you’d better pray that he doesn’t look away

Or you’ll never, never, never come back.

I really wouldn’t ask if there was anybody else

But I now you’ve got the knack of taking care of yourself

And they don’t know your face so there won’t be anyone

Looking for you

When you get to Munich we’ll be waiting in the car

Don’t look around, just walk straight out

If you don’t show, I’m sorry for the pain

I caused you

Upon the night train to Munich

Rumbling down the track

After half an hour in the restaurant car

Look for the conductor

And there will be a stain on his tunic

A paper underneath his arm

Then you’d better pray that he doesn’t look away

Or you’ll never, never, never come back.

A selection of my audiobooks. More to follow 🙂

https://books.apple.com/gb/author/hannah-howe/id1017374616

Story ideas come from multiple sources, including songs. This song helped to shape Snow in August, Sam Smith Mystery Series book sixteen.

Goylake Publishing is named after a local river, which is flowing fast on this stormy day.

Women of Courage Heroines of SOE 

Described by fellow agent Peter Churchill as ‘a woman full of humour and common sense’, Marie-Thérèse Le Chêne was born on 20 April 1890 in Sedan, France. A small woman, she possessed grey hair and sharp determined features.

Aged 52, Marie-Thérèse was the oldest female SOE agent sent to France where she served from 31 October 1942 until 19 August 1943 as a courier working alongside her husband, Henri Le Chêne, and her brother-in-law, Pierre Le Chêne.

Early in World War Two, Marie-Thérèse fled France for London with her husband,Henri. In London, Marie-Thérèse worked as a cook and manager of a hotel. Henri, a British citizen despite his French birth, had previously managed a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya.

Interestingly, the Le Chêne family decided to join the SOE, and not Charles de Gaulle’s Resistance movement. There was great rivalry between the SOE and de Gaulle’s Resistance movement, and a lot of in-fighting, mainly based on rival political beliefs.

On the night of 3/4 November 1942, Marie-Thérèse landed at Port Miou, near Cassis. She arrived with fellow agents George Starr, Mary Herbert and Odette Sansom and worked alongside her husband as a courier and later as a distributor of political pamphlets and anti-German leaflets. Towards the end of her period in France, she also conducted a sabotage mission on a canal and railway line.

During a visit to Clermont-Ferrand, a town that strongly favoured the Resistance, Marie-Thérèse discovered that the workers at the Michelin Rubber Works were sabotaging production and delivering inferior tyres to the Germans. This not only disrupted the Germans, but also kept the workers in constant employment.

In January 1943, with the Gestapo closing in and Pierre captured, Henri fled France via the Pyrenees, the most popular land escape route at the time. Too tired to join him, Marie-Thérèse hid in friends’ houses until an SOE Hudson evacuated her from a field in Angers on 19 August 1943. Back in Britain, she rejoined her husband who added wryly that he had joined the SOE to get away from his wife, but that she had followed him into the service.

After the war, Marie-Thérèse, Henri and Pierre, who’d managed to escape, returned to France where they opened a hotel in Sainte-Menehould. 

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Dear Reader #36

Dear Reader,

My personal top ten this week. Through kind gestures and loyal support many people contribute to my books. Thank you one and all.

The prologue for Operation Zigzag is now in place. This prologue establishes the background to my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series. Recently, I said that I like to know the last line of a story before commencing writing. With a twelve book series it’s difficult to know the last line. However, while cleaning my teeth this morning the last line came to me. Now, I have the beginning and the end so all I need to do is add the thousands of words in the middle 🙂

https://books2read.com/u/mKDDyv

My latest translation, the Spanish version of Digging in the Dirt, published soon.

More exciting translation news. I’m delighted that Adriana has agreed to translate Victory in my Ann’s War series, into Portuguese, and that Sandra has agreed to translate Eve’s War into German.

Three authors who write quality books. Please visit their websites and discover their wonderful stories for yourself.

Folklore, fantasy and more from Ronesa Aveela http://www.bendideia.com/ and http://www.ronesaaveela.com/

International Mysteries from Rachael Wright http://www.authorrachaelwright.com/

Romantic Thrillers from Heather Ramsay https://www.heatherramsayauthor.com/

Operation Zigzag, book one in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series is now a Hot 💯 new release in America, Australia, Britain and Canada. Many thanks to my readers for supporting my books.

https://books2read.com/u/mKDDyv

Pearl Witherington was a remarkable woman. Her life story serves as an inspiration for my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series. 

In 1943, Pearl underwent training to become a SOE agent. Her file reveals a page of signatures where she practiced her new identity as Genevieve Touzalin, a secretary in a match company. 

Once I’ve established my Eve’s War series I would like to write a biography of Pearl Witherington. In an age of heroes and heroines, she stood tall, beyond compare.

I’m reading the SOE Spy School manual published in 1943. In the chapter about disguise the manual offers the following advice for making your face look younger: “Apply hot towels, then apply alum all over the face. This tightens the skin considerably and when talcum is applied afterwards gives a fresh young appearance.”

Women of Courage Heroines of SOE

Phyllis ‘Pippa’ Latour was born on 8 April 1921. Her father,Philippe, a French doctor, married Louise, a British citizen living in South Africa. When Phyllis was three months old her father died. Three years later her mother married a racing driver who allowed his new wife to race his cars as well. Sadly, this resulted in an accident and her mother’s death.

In November 1941, Phyllis moved to Britain where she joined the WAAF, serving as a flight mechanic. Through the WAAF, Phyllis came to the SOE’s attention and they invited her to join their physical and mental training courses. Phyllis was motivated to join the SOE because the Nazis had shot her godmother’s father and her godmother had committed suicide while imprisoned. She joined on 1 November 1943 and was commissioned as an Honarary Section Officer.

On 1 May 1944, Phyllis parachuted into Orne, Normandy to operate with the Scientist II circuit, using the code name Genevieve. She worked as a wireless operator alongside Claude de Baissac and his sister, Lise.

A small woman, Phyllis was fluent in French. Often, she posed as a teenage girl whose family had moved to the region to escape the Allied bombing. As cover, she was an art student from Caen who sold soap from her bicycle and mingled with the German soldiers.

When Phyllis obtained military intelligence she encoded it for transmission using one-time codes that were hidden on a piece of silk tied around her hair. On one occasion, the German’s brought her in for questioning, but they failed to examine the silk in her hair. On another occasion she deterred would-be searchers by pretending that she had scarlet fever. 

After D-Day, Phyllis was held prisoner for five hours by the Allies because her looks did not match her official description, so adept had she become at disguise. Eventually, she was recognised by a guide and released. From her vantage point, she watched as the Allies marched through her village heading south on their mission to liberate France.

After the war, Phyllis married an engineer. Together, they had a family and lived in various countries, mainly in Australasia.

“Why do you think we are on this earth? To make people happy. But you can’t make everyone happy. So you decide to make one person happy; just one. That’s why you’ve been created, given intelligence and a set of emotions.” – Claude Arnault to fellow SOE agent Anne-Marie Walters, both pictured, during a conversation while hiding from the Gestapo.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Pearl Witherington

I hold all the women in my Heroines of the SOE series in the greatest respect, but I must admit that I hold a special admiration for Pearl Witherington possibly because her upbringing mirrored that of my modern-day detective, Sam Smith. Also, Pearl is the main inspiration for my character Mimi Duchamp in Eve’s War. As such, I feel that she deserves a blog post of her own.

Cecile Pearl Witherington Cornioley was born on 24 June 1914. She served the SOE under the code names Marie and Pauline. Born in Paris to British parents, she parachuted into France in September 1943 as a courier for the Stationer network. However, due to circumstances and her immense ability by May 1944 she was head of the Wrestler network in central France. She was the only woman to lead an SOE network in France.

Pearl’s network, which expanded to over 2,000 Maquisard fighters after D-Day, was especially efficient in sabotaging railroads and telephone lines. 

Pearl’s father, born into money, succumbed to alcohol and lost his way. Her mother, who was partially deaf and possessed a limited range of French, relied on Pearl to negotiate with tradesmen and creditors – without her father’s income the family slid into debt. She did this at an early age, forgoing most of her schooling. Indeed, she only enjoyed four years in school. Often, she walked miles across Paris to deal with family business and scavenge food then studied in the evenings.

After school, Pearl found employment at the British Embassy, where she impressed and excelled. She fell in love with Henri Cornioley (1910–1999), the son of well-to-do parents. Initially, Henri’s parents rejected Pearl because of her impoverished background. The loving couple couldn’t enjoy each other’s company at home, so they met in cinemas and parks. In February 1940, Henri joined the British Army and Pearl did not see him again for three and a half years.

Henri and Pearl

Pearl escaped from occupied France with her mother and three sisters in December 1940. After a long and perilous journey, the family arrived in London in July 1941. Through her Embassy contacts, she found work in the Air Ministry.

Determined to fight back against Hitler’s occupation of France, Pearl joined the SOE on 8 June 1943. In training she emerged as the ‘best shot’ the service had ever seen, male or female.

When Pearl parachuted into occupied France on 22 September 1943, she joined Maurice Southgate, leader of the Stationer network, and courier Jacqueline Nearne. Southgate also reunited Pearl with her fiancé, Henri, who had escaped from a Nazi prisoner of war camp.

Over the next eight months, posing as a cosmetics saleswoman, Pearl performed her duties as a courier. Covering a vast area, she was constantly on the move, sleeping on trains when the opportunity arose. Frequently, she encountered Gestapo checkpoints where the French police examined her (false) identity papers. Her cover was based on Marie Jeanne Marthe Verges, a woman who had disappeared.

The Gestapo arrested Maurice Southgate on 1 May 1944. With Southgate a Gestapo prisoner, Pearl formed and became leader of a new SOE network, Wrestler. With the help of her fiancé, Henri, and a neighbouring network, Pearl’s group attacked the railway infrastructure 800 times in June 1944 alone. Their main focal points were the railway lines between Paris and Bordeaux. By disrupting these lines, Pearl hindered the Nazis efforts to transport men and artillery to the battle front in Normandy.

On the morning of 11 June 1944, Nazi soldiers attacked Pearl at the Les Souches chateau, her headquarters near the village of Dun-le-Poëlier. Under fire, Pearl hid the tin where she kept a large amount of money and fled to a wheat field where she hid until nightfall. Henri also hid in the wheat field where he counted fifty-six truckloads of Nazi soldiers participating in the operation. By this time, the towns and countryside were full of ‘Wanted’ posters with Pearl carrying a million franc reward on her head.

The Nazis destroyed everything of value to the SOE in the chateau, including their weapons and radio. Therefore, through a neighbouring network, Pearl requested fresh supplies from Britain, which duly arrived on her birthday, 24 June, via a three-plane air-drop. 

Henri and Pearl

Rearmed and reconnected, Pearl went from strength-to-strength. The number of Maquis in her region doubled to nearly 4,000 as the D-Day invasion took effect. Pearl and Henri organised their men into four subsections. Sixty planeloads of arms also arrived, along with Captain Francis Perdiset who, on Pearl’s request, assisted in the military operations. Throughout, Pearl’s men held her in the highest respect, often referring to her as ‘Lieutenant Pauline’.

In late August 1944, Pearl’s men moved to the Forest of Gatines near Valencay. Their objective was to stop the Nazi army in southern France from linking up with battalions in northern France. 

After a battle on September 9-10, more than 19,000 Nazis surrendered.   They surrendered to the advancing Americans; they were too frightened to surrender to Pearl’s men.

On 21 September 1944, Pearl returned to Britain. There, she offered an extraordinary and unique breakdown of her expenditure in the field, which amounted to several million francs. Her accounts listed everything, from cigarettes to razor blades.

Pearl married Henri Cornioley in Kensington Register Office on 26 October 1944. The couple remained together for life and produced a daughter, Claire. Pearl published her autobiography, Code Name Pauline, in 1997. 

After the war, Pearl worked for the World Bank. In 1991, with Henri’s assistance, she established the Valencay SOE memorial, which commemorates the 104 SOE agents who died in the line of duty. The couple retired to Valencay, one of the places she frequented during the war.

One of the most extraordinary women of her age, Pearl died, in the Loire Valley, aged 93.

The Muse #1

The Muse

#1

The Devil and Ms Devlin eBook Cover

The Devil and Ms Devlin, Sam Smith Mystery Series book fifteen, will be published on Easter Sunday. The book will be available for pre-order from 21st January 2019.

A lovely quote from Gene Tierney, discovered while researching her life and career, “A romantic picks the rose and is careless with the thorns.”

My books have sold well in France over Christmas with several making the top 💯. Also, a lovely review for Secrets and Lies, in French.

Beaucoup de plaisir à lire cette série qui n’a guère de prétention autre que de distraire le lecteur avec des personnages attachants et des histoires variées. C’est un roman policier variante eau de rose (l’harlequin du polar) qui fait passer un bon moment sur une plage ce qui n’a rien de méprisable, les bons moments sont toujours bons à prendre!

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I’ve read so many excellent books this year, it’s impossible to pick a favourite. However, if forced to nominate one I would select A Study of Household Spirits of Eastern Europe. Check it out. It’s truly delightful.
https://www.amazon.com/Household-Spirits-Eastern-Europe-Creatures-ebook/dp/B07H7V5KX6/

I love movies from the 1940s through to the 1970s. I also love Dana Andrews as an actor. Therefore, I was delighted to receive a DVD of Fallen Angel for Christmas. I’m sure this movie will influence a novel I’m researching. Set in 1948, my novel will feature one of the characters from my Ann’s War series and will have a noir feel, similar to The Third Man.

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One of the highlights of the past year has been working with my team of talented translators. In particular, I would like to send Christmas greetings to: Cristina, Anita, Tais, Irene, Laura D, Luc, Zachary, Laura N, Minea, Jill, Silvia, Eva and Christina. Thank you. I look forward to working with you again in the new year.

I’m co-founder and co-editor of Mom’s Favorite Reads. Lots of great seasonal content in our December magazine. It’s FREE. Check it out 🙂