Move over, James Bond.
It’s March 1, the beginning of Women’s History Month, and there’s a throng of female spies who worked for British intelligence during the second World War–and their tales are more passionate, heart-wrenching, and action-packed than your latest movie.
“I hate wars and violence, but if they come I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”
Nancy Wake was dubbed “The White Mouse” by the Nazis because she was so elusive. She boasted about being able to sashay through a Nazi checkpoint with a wink and smile (and a bottle of liquor to toss to the soldiers).
She could have easily stayed out of harm’s way, having been married to a wealthy French businessman and being able to travel where she pleased (she was born in New Zealand). However once she saw Hitler march his stormtroopers into France, she vowed to do whatever necessary to kick their arses out.
And boy did she do whatever was necessary…
She used her wealth to purchase a safe house where she would hide Royal Air Force pilots who were shot down by the Nazis. She purchased fake passports and papers, and even bribed guards and soldiers. She sabotaged Nazi weapons factories, derailed their train transportation, and engaged in shootouts with the SS.
She was actually captured once, but the Gestapo couldn’t easily verify her identity. They tortured her for four days before deciding to let her go. She told them nothing. Not even her name.
How did it all end for the woman at the top of the Gestapo’s Most Wanted List? She unfortunately lost her husband (who had also joined the war and was captured and killed), but she emerged victorious, and was the most decorated woman who served the Allies during WWII.
She died peacefully in August 2011.
Talk about Warrior Princess–this descendant of Indian royalty left the safety of England to join the French Resistance. She engaged in dangerous radio broadcasts where she would pass along secret codes, alert Allies and Resistance fighters regarding Nazi movement and plans, and when she was captured and imprisoned, she fought so fiercely that her captors grew afraid of her.
In fact, they wanted her to sign an agreement stating she would no longer attempt to escape.
Needless to say, she turned down their offer, and they condemned her to “Nacht und Nebel” (Night and Fog), which is basically disappearance without trace. She was whisked away to a prison in Germany before finally being transferred to the Dachau concentration camp where she was executed.
Some witnesses testified that the last word on her lips was “liberté.”
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There are at least three or four other amazing women I could add to this list (perhaps I’ll add one each week of this month?). I hope you enjoyed what I’ve shared, and perhaps some of these stories could make their way into a history class covering WWII. This certainly would’ve piqued my interest!
The title of this post “Don’t Call Us Girls” is a reference to Doris Bohrer, who said all the men around her addressed each other as Lieutenant, Colonel, or some official title, while the female spies were simply “the girls.”
When a group of male spies teased her about it, she pulled out a grenade and set it on the lunch table they were at. When the men saw her reach for the pin, they panicked and ran, some even jumping out of windows. Don’t worry, the grenade wad disabled, and Doris sat there and finished her salad.
These women definitely have sparks of audacity and humor I enjoy, but most of all their courage–especially in the face of death–are truly inspiring and make up a part of history. They should not be forgotten, because they are true heroines, and more than simply, “the girls.”
Happy Women’s History Month!