Women’s History Month / The Real Life Agent Carters – The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
If I told you Agent Peggy Carter represented more than just a comic book (or movie/tv ) character, you’d probably chalk it up to mere fandom. And yes, while I am a fan of Agent Carter, I’m an even bigger fan of the dozens of real life Agent Carters who spied during WWII without a Captain America to back them up.
Their stories are humorous, heart-racing, action-packed, and even painful. But since it’s Women’s History Month, and I always give these ladies a special nod during this time, if you haven’t heard of the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, grab a cup of tea, and I’ll share with you why it’s exciting to see bits of these women shine through in contemporary stories.
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare? How did they get that name?
Winston Churchill needed spies and saboteurs–the kind who could easily slip in and out of rooms and conversations, go unnoticed when necessary, and who would arouse little if any suspicion. He needed women. He needed women who were smart, brave, and in some cases, a special kind of crazy (in a good way). Churchill called them the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, and let me tell you, their fight against the Nazis was most ungentlemanly 😉 officially they were known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE), but c’mon, Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare sounds way more badass.
“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 them 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.”
After only two years of marriage, 21 year-old Violette Szabo lost her husband, a French soldier killed in Battle. He never had the chance to see their daughter. At at a time when most widows (especially so young!) would be considering things like remarriage and finances, Violette offered her services to SOE.
The organization trained her in night and daytime navigation, escape and evasion methods, Allied and German weapons, unarmed combat, explosives, and cryptography.
She parachuted into Nazi-occupied France in 1944, and was able to reorganize one of the spy networks that had been broken up by the Nazis, as well as relay information back to London regarding weapons factories and potential bombing targets.
Remember the famous D-Day landings when American, British, Canadian and French troops invaded Normandy? Violette helped sabotage German communications so the Nazis could not hinder or slow down the Ally troops.
Violette was arrested during an impromptu roadblock set up by the Nazis and gave them a hell of a gun fight before finally being taken into custody by the intelligence arm of the SS. She endured interrogation and torture before being sent off to the Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was executed by firing squad. She was only 23 years old.
Violette Szabo is one of the most well known of the SOE operatives, and numerous biographies have been written about her, and her story has even been brought to the big screen. Violette Szabo represents the 13 female SOE agents who lost their lives in the service of freedom and justice.
I hope this was an insightful experience for you, and if you were unaware of SOE, the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, or any of these outstanding ladies, perhaps now you’ll be inspired to read a book about them, watch a movie, or simply recall in your mind how well they served their communities and countries, with fierce bravery.
Happy Women’s History Month!
About The Author
Alesha Escobar writes fantasy to support her chocolate habit. She enjoys everything from Tolkien and Dante to the Dresden Files and Hellblazer comics. Alesha is the author of The Gray Tower Trilogy, an action-packed supernatural spy thriller set in an alternate 1940’s (think: Agent Carter, but with magic). The trilogy books have hit the Amazon bestsellers lists for Historical Fantasy and Mashups. The first book of the trilogy is free, and the other two books are on sale for a limited time at Amazon.com
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