Feminist-Worthy women took the spotlight, of course during International Women's Day. It was a bore. Barely anyone in the Tavern bothered with the same-old, same-old feminist whine-gloat.
Instead my fine lady friend The Southern Gal decided to highlight some extraordinary ladies for us; Ladies that seem to have almost disappeared from view, even from the 'Womyn's Studies' syllabus. (were they ever there?).
And yet those women of a generation ago - and here we can only illustrate with a few of the many - are just the sort that are needed today. Brave, courageous, strong women who did not whine. Women who should be celebrated.
Take it away M'Dear, while I pour the good stuff.
Female Spies of World War 2An old knight once told me,“When war is upon you, there are more pressing things than ego.”Contrary to what most modern women may tell you, women have been putting their lives in harm’s way for their countries long before Gloria Steinman’s so-called “fight for equality”.
Characters of very sound character too. For instance.....The following I am about to tell you are stories about real women, doing work effectively the way authentic women do. There is a long history of female involvement in warfare, even in ancient times. Espionage knows no gender and in fact, being female could provide less suspicion and oftentimes a better cover. There is extensive documentation of the role of women undercover and otherwise involved in intelligence work in the two world wars and some very interesting characters emerge from those two conflicts. We must never forget them, and we must always remember those that paid the ultimate price before us.
Violette ReineA French national, Violette moved to London before the start of the war. It was here that she met, fell in love with, married, and had a child with Etienne Szabo, a French Foreign Legion Officer serving with Free French forces. After Szabo was killed in 1942, young Violette became embittered by the death of her husband and joined the SOE where she was determined to avenge her husband’s death (a common theme that might suggest making enemies of women was the downfall of Nazi Germany).
Replacing Philippe Liewer, an agent who had been uncovered and was hiding in Paris, she helped to completely restructure and reorder the shattered resistance movement in Normandy in June 1943.
She also led sabotage missions against roads and railways as well as spotted potential bombing targets for the British. After briefly returning to Britain, she went on a second mission into France in which her car was ambushed. After holding off German troops with 64 rounds of ammunition so that her colleague could escape, she was captured and deported to Saarbrucken along with two other female agents and 37 male prisoners.
For her bravery and valor she paid the ultimate sacrifice.
During the transit, she used the cover of an Allied air raid to gather water for the imprisoned men in her final valorous act before she was executed on January 27, 1945.True womanhood knows bravery.While the efforts of men in war have been well highlighted and celebrated, we often forget that women played just as large a role in ensuring victory.
Some piloted planes, others worked hard in factories, and a very special few joined the Allied secret service.
I can point out that Violette was awarded the George Cross by Great Britain and the Croix de Guerre by the French.Women risked their own lives to scout enemy positions, bomb railroads, and ensure that the Third Reich met its match. Many of their missions were vital in helping win the war.America had a few beauty freedom fighters of our own as well.
Virginia HallThis fascinating story begins with Hall’s origins in Baltimore where it soon became evident that she had no intention of heading down the road of life to housewifedom. She was determined to serve her country during the war.
After a year at Barnard and another at Radcliffe, she was off to Europe in 1926 to finish her education at the Sorborne in Paris and the Konsularakademie in Vienna which was followed by a failed series of frustrating attempts to join the Foreign Service.
She did not do well in her first examination, so she decided to gain experience and try again while working for the State Department as a clerk overseas. It was while in Turkey, in December 1933, that she lost her lower leg in a hunting accident. After recovering at home, she was fitted with a wooden prosthesis that had rubber under the foot.
She then returned to her clerk duties, this time in Venice, Italy, where her foreign service dreams ended: She was told that Department regulations prohibited hiring anyone without the necessary number of appendages.
Needing a fresh start, Hall transferred to Tallin, Estonia. But without the prospect of becoming a foreign service officer, she found the work infuriatingly dull and resigned in May 1939. She was in Paris, considering options, when the war started.
She volunteered as an ambulance driver for the French army (private second class), serving at the front until France surrendered in May 1940. Out of a job again, she made her way to London, where she found a clerical position with the military attaché in the American embassy. A short time later, she met Vera Atkins and her life changed forever.Within the French Section of SOE, Vera Atkins was a bit of a legend.
|Vera, the model for 'Foyle's War' spymistress?|
The conservatively dressed, chain-smoking special assistant to the head of “F” Section, Col. Maurice Buckmaster, had no prior experience. In fact, she was not even a British subject. But she had well-placed friends, learned quickly, and was soon helping with recruitment, monitoring agent training, and looking after agent needs while behind the lines in France.
F Section supported the resistance in matters of training, logistics, and sabotage. Getting suitable agents to work with the French was a constant problem and Atkins developed a knack for finding good ones. While chatting with Hall at a dinner party and learning of her language skills—French and German, albeit with an American accent—plus her ambulance driving experiences, Atkins sensed she possessed poise under pressure. They met the next day for lunch and Atkins convinced Hall to leave the embassy and join SOE.Since America was not yet in the war and its citizens could travel freely in unoccupied France, Hall was targeted for duty with cover as a reporter for the New York Post. Contrary to some accounts that claim Hall was sent to France without any training, Pearson shows that she completed the standard officer courses, with the exception of the parachute portion.
On 23 August 1941, she arrived in Vichy, the capital of unoccupied France, and registered with the embassy. Then she went to Lyon, to begin her work in the field. For the next 14 months, using various aliases—Bridgette LeContre, Marie, Philomène, Germaine—she worked to organize the resistance, help downed fliers escape, provide courier service for other agents, and obtain supplies for the clandestine presses and the forgers—all this while managing to write articles for the Post and avoid the Gestapo that had penetrated many of the resistance networks.In November 1942, when the Allies invaded North Africa and the Nazis occupied all of France, Hall had to flee—she knew too much to risk capture. Her only means of escape was to walk across the Pyrenees through winter snow to Spain, where she was jailed for a few weeks before being allowed to continue to London.
|Virginia Hall (Goillot)|
Her first request was to return to France. SOE said no, it was too risky, especially with her likeness on a wanted poster. She settled instead for Madrid. But after nearly a year there, she found the duties unbearably boring and requested something more operational. Returning to London in January 1944, she was assigned the unexciting but not unimportant job of briefing agents and officers about to be sent behind the lines in France. She knew that, with the preparations for D-Day underway, the resistance was critically short of radio operators, so she applied and was trained in radio communications—but with no guarantees.Until then, Hall had paid little attention to a new American organization she had heard about—the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—that conducted resistance support operations in cooperation with SOE. Now, she made contacts there and decided to transfer if she could be sent back to France to work with the resistance.
By March 1944, she was on a motorboat crossing the English Channel headed for the coast of France. Working in disguise as an old woman farmhand, she organized sabotage operations, supported resistance groups as a radio operator and courier, located drop zones for the RAF, and eventually worked with a Jedburgh team to sabotage German military movements. Once again she managed to avoid capture, despite some close calls.
After France was freed, Hall was trained for an OSS assignment in occupied Vienna, where she had once gone to college; however, the war ended before she could get there. When OSS was abolished at the end of September 1945, Hall stayed on in Europe, working for the follow-on organization, eventually named the Central Intelligence Group (CIG).
In 1947, she made the transition to the CIA clandestine service. When she reached the mandatory retirement age of 60 in 1966, Virginia Hall left the CIA as a GS-14, never having been allowed to serve in a peacetime station overseas.Hall’s extraordinary career, included missions where Hall drove a crude ambulance loaded with wounded while under fire; how she twice escaped the continent; how she got through SOE training with her artificial leg (which she called Cuthbert); the agent problems she dealt with, including the discovery of a Gestapo double-agent; her disguises and her cover work as a milkmaid and farmer’s helper; and how she arranged the escape of several of her agents from a Gestapo prison.
After the war, Hall’s achievements were to be publicly recognized with the presentation of the Distinguished Service Cross by President Harry Truman. She declined the honor, however, preferring to receive the award without publicity from OSS chief Gen. William Donovan, and thus preserve her cover for clandestine work in the postwar era.In writing this story, Judith Pearson examined the recently released SOE files in the British National Archives and the OSS files in the American National Archives. She interviewed Hall’s niece in Baltimore and others who knew and wrote about her, including SOE historian Foot. It is an amazing tale of an unheralded woman intelligence officer way ahead of her time—Virginia Hall was a genuine heroine.In 1950, Hall married OSS agent Paul Goillot. In 1951, she joined the Central Intelligence Agency working as an intelligence analyst on French parliamentary affairs. She worked alongside her husband as part of the Special Activities Division.Hall retired in 1966 to a farm in Barnesville, Maryland.Virginia Hall Goillot died at the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Maryland on 8 July 1982, aged 76. She is buried in the Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, Baltimore County, Maryland.Women have traditionally and in great numbers volunteered to help protect the nation. Besides enlisting in the military, women have effectively served in the shadowy world of espionage as couriers, guides, code breakers, intelligence analysts, even as covert agents—spies.While spies and their stories naturally fade into obscurity, women operatives in particular have been largely overlooked by many writers and historians. At least part of this reality can be traced to the secret nature of espionage work.Clandestine agents, both male and female, try to “maintain a low profile” by blending in and not standing out. Given the inherent dangers associated with a spy’s life,
many—including women—died undercover,
for many their true identities still a mystery.
These are just a couple of extraordinary women who fought for their country. Many more sacrificed and paid the ultimate price. For those that are named and those left unnamed. You didn’t ask for our recognition, but we will never forget you and the price you paid for freedom.
You were our grandmothers, your legacy lives on in us and continues to inspire true women as we should be.Dedicated to my memaw, you are missed beyond belief. You taught me so much about love for family, faith and country. Your impact on me I will remember always and hold dear to my heart. Thank you for showing me what true feminine strength is.
I shall drink to those Ladies. Their courage, persistence and Elan are Heroic, and they and other ladies of the era were Heroines.
Thanks to Southern Gal for reminding us.