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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #61

Dear Reader,

Operation Broadsword, book three in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series, is now available to pre-order 🙂

https://books2read.com/u/bxn5e6

🎼🎼🎼 Blue eyes, baby’s got blue eyes…🎼🎼🎼

Packed with shorts stories, articles, puzzles, recipes and so much more, the latest issue of Mom’s Favorite Reads.

Images from my garden this week.

My article about SOE heroine Anne-Marie Walters appears on page 20 of the magazine.

I’m enjoying Paula’s narration of Operation Locksmith, book two in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series. Normally, I don’t like listening to my own words, but it’s great fun to be a part of this production.

Nazi board game from 1941 – Wir fahren gegen England (We go against England).

“Fun for all the family.”

Normandy, 1944. While the battle rages, a Frenchwoman pours a drink for a British soldier.

We have more sheep than people 🙂

Walking through the clouds on Pen-y-Fan this week.

Basically, my approach to writing.

Hannah Arendt on Writing:

Gaus: Do you write easily? Do you formulate ideas easily?

Arendt: Sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t. But in general I can tell you that I never write until I can, so to speak, take dictation from myself…Usually I write it all down only once.

The organisational aspect of D-Day never ceases to amaze me.
2 August 1944. The French 2nd Armored Division arrived in France, landing at Utah Beach, Normandy. The division served under General Patton as part of the US Third Army.

Two weeks later, they helped to liberate Paris.

I’m really getting into my character Eve in my Eve’s War series, so much so that when she met a Maquis leader today and they shared cheese as a peace offering it gave me a strong urge to eat cheese. Tomorrow, Eve blows up a railway line. I hope I don’t get a strong urge to play with dynamite 🤣

On this date, with the First World War ten days old, George Bernard Shaw wrote an article urging both sides to shoot their officers and go home.

An inspiration for Guy Samson in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series, Francis Charles Albert Cammaerts was born in London on 16 June 1916. Under the code name Roger he was an agent of the Special Operations Executive. His parents were Professor Emile Cammaerts, a Belgian poet, and Tita Brand, a successful actress.

Francis Cammaerts

At the beginning of the Second World War, Cammaerts declared himself a conscientious objector. However, in October 1942 he joined the SOE and between March 1943 and September 1944 he led the Jockey network in southeastern France. Considered during training as more intellectual than practical he, nevertheless, completed the course with distinction.

Cammaerts became a pacifist in the 1930s while studying at Cambridge. After university, he established a teaching career where he met fellow teacher and pacifist Harry Rée. After much soul searching, Harry decided to join the SOE. This decision, along with the death of his brother, Pieter, who served in the RAF, convinced Cammaerts that he too should place his pasifist beliefs to one side and join the SOE.

Regarded as one of the finest male agents, Cammaerts recruited locals to the Resistance networks, supplying them with arms and training. He completed two tours as an SOE agent, totalling fifteen months, a period far longer than the average time served by an agent in France. He never stayed in the same house for more than three or four nights. Furthermore, he avoided hotels as their registers were checked by the Gestapo and French police, stayed clear of large railway stations and never told anyone of his plans. 

In the Jockey network, Cammaerts linked up with wireless operator Auguste Fioras. On 27 May 1943, the pair sent their first message to SOE headquarters in London while Fioras went on to transmit 416 wireless messages during 1943 and 1944, a record for an SOE wireless operator.

Cammaerts’ Jockey circuit, which had developed to include over 10,000 people, played a crucial role in the action that followed the D-Day landings. His men and women cut communication and railway lines, which severely hindered the movements of Nazi troops and armaments.

Aware of the risks the locals were taking, Cammaerts always informed them that he was an SOE agent and reminded them of the consequences should anyone talk or be caught. Despite this, he always received a warm welcome. Later, along with many other agents, he gave a great deal of credit to the ordinary French citizens who provided him and his colleagues with safety and support. In the television series Secret Agent, broadcast in 2000, Cammaerts said, “The most important element was the French housewife who fed us, clothed us and kept us cheerful.”

At 193 cm tall and with feet so large his nickname in France was “Big Feet”, Cammaerts feared that he would attract the Gestapo’s attention. Furthermore, he spoke French with a noticeable Belgian accent, which made him vulnerable to informers in the Malice. His security fears were realised on 13 August 1944 when he was arrested at a roadblock by the Gestapo. He was taken to Digne prison where he was beaten and interrogated. During the interrogation, he insisted that he was involved in the black market, a cover story he concocted to account for the large sum of money he carried about his person.

Even though Cammaerts was the most important SOE agent in southeastern France, the Gestapo didn’t realise that they had captured him. Nevertheless, they suspected that he belonged to the Resistance and arranged his execution.

Christine Granville

However, on 17 August 1944, two days before the Allied invasion of southern France, fellow agent and courier Christine Granville (aka Krystyna Skarbek) helped him to escape. Christine confronted two collaborators, Albert Schenck, a French liaison officer to the Gestapo, and Max Waem, a Belgian interpreter for the Gestapo. She told them that the Allied troops would arrive within hours and that if they did not cooperate they would be condemned as Nazi collaborators. Under threat from the avenging locals, Schenck and Waem secured Cammaerts’ release.

Maquisards with Christine Granville, second from right

In March 1945, Cammaerts joined the Special Allied Airborne Reconnaissance Force. The SAARF’s main objective was to assist in the reconstruction work in Germany after the fall of Hitler. For Cammaerts this meant dealing with the aftermath of the newly liberated concentration camps. Understandably, he was appalled by what he saw and later said, “The SAARF period was blank and grey and one of those certain areas in my life when I didn’t know what I was doing.”

During his pacifist period, Cammaerts met Nancy Findlay (Nan), and they married on 15 March 1941. Over the following decades, the couple had four children, three girls and a boy.

In 1948, Cammaerts became the first Director of the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, a UNESCO agency. Four years later, he returned to teaching. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1958 and in 1959 appeared for the defence in the notorious Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial, a case won by the publisher, Penguin Books, and the author, D.H. Lawrence.

Further teaching posts in Britain and Africa followed. Throughout his career, Cammaerts won high praise as an innovative educator. He finally retired in 1987 to live in the south of France. He died there in 2006.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #60

Dear Reader,

“Have the courage to use your own reason. That is the motto of enlightenment.” – Immanuel Kant

From QI

The Aryan poster child used in Nazi propaganda was, in fact, Jewish. A photographer submitted her image to a contest to find “the most beautiful Aryan baby”.

The cover for the print version of Operation Zigzag, currently with the printer.

“All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened.” – Ernest Hemingway

From 1914. If you wanted a copy of this map, you had to collect ten coupons from Black Cat cigarette packets. As if the war wasn’t bad enough, smoking also increased substantially.

The writing is on the wall…

I wrote the Ann’s War series for my own amusement so I’m amazed and delighted to see Betrayal, book one in the series, at #1 for the eleventh time on the mystery and literature charts.

“Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear.” – Hannah Arendt

East and West Berlin before the fall of the wall. The different street lights indicate the border.

This is what happens when society tolerates or embraces fascism. Staff at Auschwitz enjoying their ‘work’.

Please pause and give this some deep thought.

Wanted: replacement electrician. Must supply own rubber boots.

From Future Generation Wales

If you think this is extraordinary you should have seen the bull 👀

If all the ice melted…

History often overlooks the great women…

One of the inspirations for Guy Samson in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series, André Hunter Alfred Hue was born in Swansea, Wales on 7 December 1923. 

Andre Hue, the photograph attached to his fake identity card

André’s father, also André, was French while his mother, Caroline, was Welsh. A First World War veteran, André senior received a bullet wound to the head. The bullet remained in place and contributed to his early death in 1938.

Caroline did not speak French. Indeed, before their marriage neither she nor her husband spoke each other’s native language. However, Caroline insisted that her children should learn French.

From Swansea, André’s family moved to Le Havre. There, in 1939, he became a sailor in the French merchant navy with the rank of purser. 

On 17 June 1940, André’s ship, the SS Champlain, struck a mine off La Rochelle and sank. André was in the shower at the time, but he managed to swim ashore, naked.

While working as a railroad clerk in Guer, Brittany, André fulfilled a burning ambition and joined the French Resistance. The railroad station at Guer was strategically important because it served as a key artery for supplying German troops to north-western France.

Working in the railroad office, André provided information about secret timetables so that the RAF could attack trains carrying German troops and supplies. 

As trust in André’s abilities increased, the Resistance encouraged him to smuggle Allied airmen, shot down over France, to safety, often by guiding them to the coast and the waiting boats and submarines.

With André’s courage and his trustworthiness established, the Special Operations Executive invited him to train as an agent. In February 1944 he crossed the Channel to Britain to commence training. His reports stated that he was “a very active, energetic, enthusiastic man with a reasonably stable personality, although inclined to excitement at times.”

André succeeded with his training and the SOE awarded him the rank of Acting Captain in time for Operation Overlord.

During the night of 5/6 June 1944, André parachuted into France. Men from the French Special Air Service accompanied him. Upon landing, an immediate task was to avoid Cossacks who were patrolling the countryside. The Cossacks were Soviet POWs who’d joined the German Army.

Maquis in an armoured Jeep

In Brittany, André’s task was to organise the local Maquis so that they could launch guerrilla attacks on communication lines, railroads and roads. Their ultimate aim was to prevent the four Nazi divisions stationed in Brittany from joining the rest of the German army in Normandy.

André was based at La Nouette farmhouse near Saint Marcel. He noted in his autobiography, The Next Moon, that he feared the Milice more than the Germans because the Milice being French could identify regional accents. However, as a natural French speaker he escaped initial suspicion.

On one occasion, André was present when the Nazis shot five SAS men  and seventeen French civilians. On another occasion, he was trapped in a barn, which the Nazis had torched. Despite the smoke and flames, he managed to escape.

On 18 June 1944, the Nazis attacked André’s farmhouse. Four thousand Maquisards rushed to defend the farmhouse and the Battle of Saint Marcel ensued.

La Nouette after the battle

In The Next Moon, André recalled the battle. “Now every weapon that the enemy possessed was brought to bear on our front line in a cacophony of shots and explosions which could not drown an even more sinister noise: the occasional crack of a single bullet. A man within feet of me slumped to the ground with blood spurting two feet into the air from the side of his neck. We had anticipated an infantry assault – possibly backed up with light armour – but snipers, a threat we had not met before, were difficult to counter. Within minutes of the first casualty, another seven of our men lay dying within the farm complex: all had been shot from long range.”

As the Nazi snipers continued to assassinate André’s men, he could hear the sound of panzers in the distance, so he ordered a retreat into the woods under the cover of darkness. There, André used his radio to contact the SOE and RAF. They organised an air strike, which resulted in mass confusion. During that confusion, André and his men escaped.

La Nouette restored after the Second World War

Throughout August 1944, André participated extensively in the liberation of France. He executed an operation where the Resistance secured the villages in Brittany to aid the advancing Allies. After his work in Brittany, he parachuted into the town of Nevers in Burgundy, where he coordinated operations between the SOE and the Resistance.

On 30 August 1944, André landed in the Nievre just west of Dijon where he took command of the SOE Gondolier circuit. There, he trained the local Maquis and blew up three bridges in Burgundy, which denied the retreating Nazis an exit point from the South of France. Also, in Luzy, André removed mines, placed by the Nazis to kill and maim local civilians. 

For his extraordinary efforts, André was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his work in France. At the age of twenty, he was one of the youngest men to receive a DSO.

By the end of the Second World War, André held the rank of Major in the British Army. He served overseas, in Burma, Palestine, Cyprus and Cambodia. During his stint in Cambodia, he met his future wife, Maureen Taylor, who worked in the British Embassy in Phnom Penh. The couple married in 1957 and had one daughter.

Before establishing a successful business career, André worked for MI6, his activities centred on the Far East.

In later years, André suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, which claimed his life in 2005.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #57

Dear Reader,

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” – W B Yeats

I enjoyed the movie Lucie Aubrac this week and would place it in my top ten. I love the Continental style of filmmaking where the camera lingers on a scene and facial expressions say more than words. Some of the linking scenes were dialogue and music free, yet the story flowed effortlessly.

Lucie Aubrac is a French movie and I viewed it in its native language. I find that subtitles draw you into a story and make it more compelling. It’s a true story and I knew the outcome. All the same, the movie is gripping from the opening dramatic scene to its heartfelt conclusion.

A fitting cinematic tribute to a remarkable woman.

One of my favourite actresses, Eva Marie Saint, was 96 on 4th July 2020. Happy birthday and thank you for your wonderful films.

A record-breaking sales day for my books and Sam’s Song at #1 for the ninth time. Difficult to get excited with so much going on in the world, but many thanks to everyone who supports my books.

The birth of speech. And it all went downhill from there 🙂

René Descartes as Nostradamus?!

Of course, he actually said, “Cogito, ergo sum.” – “I think, therefore I am.”

One for the album. Nice to see my latest Sam Smith Mystery, Looking for Rosanna Mee, alongside Ian Rankin in the Hot 💯. We will publish Looking for Rosanna Mee in September.

I see my new keyboard is well equipped for the modern age…

Bicycle-taxis, Paris, spring 1945. Research for my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series.

This week in 1932, the Great Depression in America reached its lowest point. After the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell. Disaster followed for investors, alongside further declines in consumption, production and employment.

Also interesting on this front page: ‘State Plans to Roundup Tax Dodgers’. And, ‘Jury Believes Her Story’. I’m intrigued to know what her story entailed.

Written in the 1970s, the lyrics are still highly relevant today.

An inspiration for my Eve’s War series, Nancy Wake was one of the most remarkable women of World War II. Born in New Zealand and brought up in Australia, she married a Frenchman and became a leading figure in the Marseille Resistance. In 1943, she joined the SOE and was heavily involved in the liberation of France.

This DVD arrived from New Zealand today and I’m looking forward to watching it.

An in-depth article about Nancy Wake will appear on my website in the near future.

Don’t believe everything you hear. Don’t believe everything you see. This is a stationary image.

Some ideas to lift your mood. Try to achieve at least three a day.


Resistance Couples – Hélène and Philippe Viannay

Hélène Victoria Mordkovitch was born on 12 July 1917 in Paris after her Russian parents had emigrated to the city in 1908.

A brilliant student, Hélène attended the Sorbonne where she studied geography. There, in September 1940, she met her future husband, Philippe Viannay, a philosophy student seeking a certificate in geography.

Hélène Viannay

Opposed to the Nazi occupation of France, the couple decided not to escape to London. Instead they created an underground newspaper, Défense de la France, publishing the first issue on 14 July 1941. The journal took its motto from Blaise Pascal, “I only believe stories told by those witnesses who are willing to have their throats cut.”

Despite the dangers of producing an underground newspaper, Défense de la France remained in production until the Liberation in August 1944. By that time the newspaper regularly reached half a million readers, the largest circulation of the whole clandestine press.

Philippe Viannay

Hélène and Philippe married in 1942. Their first child, Pierre, was born the following year while the couple were on the run from the Gestapo. Along with the newspaper, Hélène also organised the mass production of false identity papers for Frenchmen resisting deportation to the forced labour camps in Germany.

In 1944, Hélène joined the Ronquerolles Maquis, a Resistance group led by Philippe. After her husband was injured, Hélène coordinated the group and participated in the liberation of France.

After the war, the Viannays created the Centre for the Training of Journalists (Centre de Formation des Journalistes) in Paris, which continues to this day. In 1947, they also founded Les Glénans (Le Centre nautique des Glénans), which initially served as a convalescent centre for deportees and battle-weary résistants. Hélène managed the association from 1954 until her retirement in 1979.

The Canadian journalist Caitlin Kelly, who studied with Philippe Viannay at the Centre in Paris, later described him as “the most inspiring man I’ve ever met.”

In 1991, Hélène participated in the creation of the Prix Philippe Viannay-Défense de la France, a prize awarded annually to works promoting resistance to Nazism in France and elsewhere in Europe.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #56

Dear Reader,

That noble beast, the thesaurus…

The great philosophers…

My Song of the Week

We can be anything, anything at all

We can be everything, everything and more

Another new project, the translation of The Olive Tree: Roots into Spanish. This series is about the Spanish Civil War so I’m delighted that the books are being translated into Spanish.

Chess and music are two of my passions. This is brilliant, a U2 cover of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” performed by Juga. The lyrics, by Vladimir Kramnik, refer to his World Championship match with Garry Kasparov.

My article about SOE agent Alix d’Unienville appears on page 20 of the magazine. Lots of other interesting features too 🙂

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

Difficult times for everyone at the moment with some political leaders making it even more difficult than it needs to be. Hopefully, this calendar will help you in some small way.

Resistance Couples

Lucie Samuel, better known as Lucie Aubrac, was born on 29 June 1912. A history teacher in peacetime, Lucie became a leading member of the French Resistance.

In 1939, Lucie married Raymond Aubrac and after the Nazis occupied France in 1940 the couple joined the Resistance. In 1941, the Aubrac’s group sabotaged the train stations at Perpignan and Cannes, and distributed thousands of anti-Nazi flyers. 

Lucie and Raymond Aubrac

Despite harassment and threats from the Nazis, the Aubracs published an underground newspaper, Libération. With the help of local printers and trade-unionists, 10,000 copies of Libération were produced and distributed in July 1941, bringing news and hope to the French people; a reminder that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

An issue of Libération

In March 1943, the Gestapo arrested Raymond. In May, they released him, only to arrest him again in June. With Raymond sentenced to death, Lucie concocted an audacious escape plan.

Under French law, engaged couples were allowed to marry if one of them was soon to die. Therefore, Lucie claimed that Raymond was her fiancé. She was pregnant at the time, carrying her second child (of three). 

Lucie informed the Nazis that Raymond’s name was “Ermelin” (one of his many aliases) and that he had been caught in a raid while innocently visiting a doctor. She claimed that she was unmarried and that Raymond was the father of her expected child. 

Furthermore, Lucie pleaded with the Gestapo that they should allow Raymond to marry her before his execution. The Gestapo believed her story and granted her wish.

Later, after the ‘marriage’ ceremony, as the Gestapo escorted Raymond back to his prison the local Resistance executed Lucie’s plan. In cars, they ambushed the prison lorry and liberated fifteen prisoners. In the melee, Lucie freed Raymond and the couple escaped.

In 1944, Lucie was the first woman to sit in a French parliamentary assembly and in 1945 she published a short history of the French Resistance.

Outwitting the Gestapo, a semi-fictional version of Lucie’s wartime diaries, followed in 1984. Lucie published her book after notorious psychopath, Klaus Barbie ‘The Butcher of Leon’ claimed that Raymond had betrayed the Resistance after his arrest. 

Undoubtedly, there were factions and conflicts within the Resistance, particularly between the Gaullists and the Communists. As a result of these conflicts, betrayals did occur. However, when seeking the truth it is difficult to place great faith in a psychopath, particularly one who had reason to hate the Aubracs.

In support of the Aubracs, twenty leading Resistance survivors published a letter, condemning the accusations. Voluntarily, the Aubracs appeared before a panel of leading French historians. After examining the case, the historians concluded that Raymond was not a traitor.

To date, the Aubracs’ story has featured in two films – Boulevard des hirondelles, 1992, and Lucie Aubrac, 1997. While, in 1996, Lucie was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government for her heroism during the Second World War.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a statement after Raymond’s death in 2012, said that Raymond’s escape from the Nazis had “become a legend in the history of the Resistance” and praised him and all Resistance members as “heroes of the shadows who saved France’s honor, at a time when it seemed lost.”

While President François Hollande said, “In our darkest times, he [Raymond] was, with Lucie Aubrac, among the righteous, who found, in themselves and in the universal values of our Republic, the strength to resist Nazi barbarism.”

Lucie once said: “Resistance is not just something locked away in the period 1939-45. Resistance is a way of life, an intellectual and emotional reaction to anything which threatens human liberty.”

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #44

Dear Reader,

My personal top ten this week.

My top ten sales countries this week: America, Britain, Canada, Australia, Bulgaria, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Germany, France.

My latest Sam Smith Mystery, Looking for Rosanna Mee, book seventeen in the series, 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

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Sam has new readers, in Uzbekistan

Pictured: Traditional embroidery from Uzbekistan

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I managed to get hold of another ‘top secret’ document. This document is the SOE file on traitor Roger Bardet who betrayal many of his colleagues to the Nazis. His story will form the basis for Operation Sherlock, book five in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series.

Local pictures taken at Sger and Kenfig this week, a stone’s throw from my home.

I’m outlining Operation Broadsword, book three in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series. In this story Eve, Guy Samson and Mimi Duchamp arrive in Dol-de-Bretagne, by parachute, to establish the Broadsword resistance network.

In peacetime, Guy is an archaeologist, a professor, and he uses that cover in Dol-de-Bretagne. One of the historical objects that catches his eye is the Menhir de Champ-Dolent, the largest standing stone in Brittany at over nine metres high. The menhir is made of pinkish granite and weighs an estimated 100 tonnes.

In the story, Eve discovers that friends can be enemies. However, can enemies also become friends?

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I’ve finalised the running order for my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series. The stories, all based on true events, will cover December 1942 to October 1944. The books are in various stages of production, from draft outlines to completed manuscripts. Publication will begin in June and will continue at two monthly intervals.

The running order:

Operation Zigzag 
Operation Locksmith 
Operation Broadsword 
Operation Treasure 
Operation Sherlock
Operation Cameo
Operation Rose
Operation Watchmaker 
Operation Overlord
Operation Jedburgh 
Operation Butterfly 
Operation Liberty

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

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Women of Courage Heroines of SOE

Virginia Hall Goillot was a rare breed, an American who worked for the SOE. 

Born in Baltimore, Maryland on 5 April 1906, Virginia attended university where she studied French, German and Italian. Completing her studies in Europe, she travelled to France, Germany, Austria and Poland. In Poland in 1931 she secured employment as a consular service clerk at the American Embassy.

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In 1932, Virginia lost her left leg below the knee after a shooting accident. The surgeons affixed a wooden leg, which she nicknamed Cuthbert. 

After her accident, Virginia made several attempts to become a diplomat. However, the American authorities rejected her on the grounds that she was a woman and disabled. Consequently, in March 1939, she resigned as a consular clerk.

In February 1940, Virginia became an ambulance driver for the French army. After the fall of France in June 1940, she made her way to Spain where she met George Bellows, a British Intelligence Officer. This meeting led to an invitation to join the SOE.

Virginia joined the SOE in April 1941 and, after training, she arrived in Vichy France on 23 August 1941. Her cover story, as a reporter for the New York Post, allowed her to travel, talk with people and gather information. During this period, she became adept at changing her appearance through various forms of disguise.

In common with other SOE agents, Virginia organised the Resistance, supplied agents with money, conducted weapons training, helped downed airmen to escape, tended wounds, established safe houses and recruited new members to the cause.

Among Virginia’s recruits was Lyon brothel owner Germaine Guérin. Guérin made several safe houses available to Virginia. She also passed on information garnered from her prostitutes, tidbits gleaned from the German officers who frequented her brothel. Furthermore, while in Lyon, George Whittinghill, an American diplomat, allowed Virginia to smuggle reports to Britain in the diplomatic pouch.

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Downed airmen often made their way to Lyon where contacts told them to visit the American Consulate and say they were, ‘A friend of Olivier’. Olivier was Virginia and with the help of brothel owner Germaine Guérin and others she hid, fed and helped the airmen to escape to Spain then on to Britain.

Unfortunately, the Nazis captured Germaine Guérin and sent her to a concentration camp, but she survived. On hearing this news, Virginia arranged compensation of 80,000 francs from Britain for Guérin.

M.R.D. Foot, the official historian of the SOE, said that an agent’s motto was “dubito, ergo sum”  –  “I doubt, therefore I survive.” Virginia took this motto to heart. Indeed, in October 1941 she sensed danger and refused to attend a meeting of SOE agents in Marseille. That meeting led to disaster and the arrest of a dozen agents.

Virginia learned that the Nazis had incarcerated the twelve agents arrested in October 1941 in the Mauzac prison near Bergerac. With the aid of Gaby Bloch, wife of prisoner Jean-Pierre Bloch, Virginia smuggled tools and sardine tins into the prison. With these tools and tins the prisoners made a key to the prison door and on 15 July 1942 they escaped and hid in the woods. After an intense manhunt, Virginia helped the men to escape into Spain then on to Britain. Later, several of the escapees returned to France to lead SOE networks.

Furious with the escape, the Nazis flooded Lyon with Gestapo officers. Also, on 7 November 1942, the American Consulate in Lyon informed Virginia that the Allied invasion of North Africa was imminent and that the Nazis would retaliate in brutal fashion. Therefore, she escaped by train from Lyon to Perpignan. Then, with a guide, she walked – on one good leg – over a 7,500 foot pass across the Pyrenees into Spain, covering fifty miles in two days.

The Gestapo referred to Virginia as ‘that Canadian bitch’ even though she was, of course, American. You have to wonder at the basic intelligence and ability of the Gestapo when they couldn’t capture a one-legged woman with distinctive red hair. Furthermore, she spoke French with a broad American accent. 

Although Virginia was eager to return to France, the SOE refused on the grounds that she was known to the Gestapo. However, the Americans had no such qualms and so, by gunboat, she returned to France in March 1944 as a wireless operator for the American OSS. 

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French identification certificate for Virginia Hall as “Marcelle Montagne” forged by OSS

While working for the OSS, Virginia fell in love with a colleague, Paul Goillot. After the war, the couple lived together and eventually married in 1957. 

In 1947, Virginia joined the CIA, one of the first women hired by the new agency. She retired in 1966, aged sixty, to a farm in Barnesville, Maryland, where she lived until her death on 8 July 1982.

Admired by fellow agents, Virginia did much to establish the early SOE networks in France. Quite rightly, she is remembered as a woman of remarkable ability and courage.

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Happy Easter and as ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx