During WWII A young woman from Baltimore, Virginia Hall, went to work for the French as an agent and was so successful that the Nazis began an all out hunt for her. By the winter of 1941, the Nazis were about to arrest her, but she escaped on foot over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. This was no easy task for Virgina Hall had lost her leg in a hunting accident earlier and wore a wooden leg at the time. Not content to rest she trained as a radio operator and then transferred to America's OSS. In November 1943, disguised as an elderly milk maid, she returned to France and resumed her espioniage duties.
Virginia was hunted by the Gestapo. They circulated a wanted poster with the warning, "the woman with the limp is one of the most valuable Allied agents in France and we must find and destroy her". But her elaborate disguise fooled the Germans and she painstakingly taught herself how to walk without a limp. Virginia collected and sent invaluable intelligence and coordinated air drops in support of D-Day. She also trained and led maquis resistance groups in guerilla warfare and sabotage.
After the war Virginia Hall was awarded America's Distinguished Service Cross in a simple ceremony...the only American civilian women to receive the DSC. She was also awarded the the MBE, the Member of the British Empire, for her courageous efforts. Virginia Hall continued to work for the OSS, later the CIA, until her retirement in 1966.
Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan, GC, MBE, CdG, was a highly decorated heroine of the French Resistance in 1943. Noor's American mother was a neice of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. An author of children's stories, the Princess enrolled in Special Operations Executive, in Great Britain and was trained as a wireless operator and sent into occupied France. The Princess eluded the dreaded Gestapo for many months, cycling, with transmitter in tow, from one "safe house" to another."Madeleine" (Noor's code name) ultimately became the sole communications link between her unit of the French Resistance and home base, across the channel. Sadly she was captured by the Germans and executed. For some fascinating details and photos on Princess Noor, please visit Thomas Lipscombe's page at: The Begum Noor Connection . Many thanks to Thomas Lipscombe for providing this information.
A fascinating site about the extraordinary women of the SOE in WWII can be found at Heroines of the SOE
Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell was born in Paris on the 26th June 1921. Her mother was French, her father an Englishman, who had met his wife while serving in WW1. When the second world war began, Violette met and married a Captain in the French Foreign Legion, Etienne Szabo. Her husband was killed in North Africa.
Violette Bushell Szabo was recruited and trained by the British Special Operations Executive. While serving for them Violette went into France twice. On the second trip she was captured during a shoot-out after she killed several German soldiers. In spite of torture and interrogation she gave nothing away, and was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was eventually executed. . She was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre in 1946. For more about this heroine who gave her life visit the newly opened museum dedicated to her: Violette Szabo Museum
Cpl. Barbara Lauwers, WAC, was awarded the Bronze Star for her work with the OSS in WWII. (National Archives Photo)
Was famous actress Marlene Dietrich a spy? Well not exactly. During her work with the USO there was some press about her hobnobbing with the U.S. brass. In reality she made a major contribution to the morale of the troops during the Africa & Italy campaign where she withstood much privation in order to stay at the front. There she not only entertained but helped co-ordinate hospital and mess details. In the French & German campaign she often rode with Patton through the front lines. Her participation in Radio broadcasts aimed at Germany was actually a "black propaganda" scheme devised by the OSS and programmed to German soldiers to lower morale and promote defection. Dietrich was particularly known for the song "Lili Marlene". After the war Marlene Dietrich was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the U.S. France named her a Knight of the Legion of Honor and Belgium made her a Knight of the Order of Leopold.
"Code Name Cynthia" - Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, later Betty Pack, and one of the most intriguing spies of WWII. Her adventures include an illegal break-in of the Vichy French embassy in Washington to steal French naval code books from a safe in a locked and guarded room. The most accurate version of her life and service can be found in "Sisterhood of Spies".
The National Women's History Museum exhibit, Clandestine Women: The Untold Stories of Women in Espionage, also features the story of another unlikely operative, Julia Child.
Decades before becoming a famous chef, she worked for the Office of Strategic Services. (The OSS was the predecessor to the CIA.) She was assigned to solve a problem for U.S. naval forces during World War II: Sharks would bump into explosives that were placed underwater, setting them off and warning the German U-boats they were intended to sink.
"So... Julia Child and a few of her male compatriots got together and literally cooked up a shark repellent," that was used to coat the explosives, McCarthy says.
Before becoming a famous chef, Julia Child, seen here in 1944, worked for the OSS. She helped the U.S. spy agency develop shark repellent, a critical ingredient in protecting explosives used to sink German U-boats during World War II.
A beautiful Movie Star Actress deserves mention here, Hedy Lamarr. She was an inventor also. As well as contributing to the WWII effort.
This undated photo provided by artist Jeff Bass shows a section of his painting of World War II spy Virginia Hall. Hall, a Baltimore native, worked for British intelligence. On Tuesday, French and British ambassadors plan to honor Hall, who died in 1982 at age 78.