WW2-Era Jane Bonds

Posted: July 25, 2010 in World War 2


Noor Inayat Khan | b. January 1st, 1914, Moscow – d. September 13th, 1944, Dachau

In May 1940, during the invasion of France, Khan escaped to England undetected with her mother & sister. There, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) & trained as a wireless operator. Her ability to speak French fluently was noted by the Special Operations Executive, & after an interview with the War Office, she was recruited as an agent. Given the codename “Madeline”, she traveled to Paris by way of Le Mans & joined The Prosper Network. Fearing that the network had been infiltrated by a Nazi spy, Khan was instructed to return to England; however, she courageously declined, arguing that she was the only wireless operator remaining in the group. Former SOE trainers expressed doubts about Khan’s unworldly & gentle character; however; she fought so fiercely when she was arrested that SD officers were afraid of her. She was thenceforth treated as “an extremely dangerous prisoner” & transferred to Gestapo Headquarters where her interrogation exceeded a month. During these weeks of interrogation, she attempted escape twice & although Khan did not discuss her past activities as an operative, her captors discovered a notebook in her possession which contained recorded wireless transmissions, contrary to security regulations. Despite Khan’s refused to reveal any secret codes, the Abwehr obtained enough information to continue sending false information to SOE Headquarters in London to sabotage future parachute landings. London continually failed to investigate these anomalies & as a result, 3 more of Britain’s top agents were compromised. In the summer of 1944, Khan was transferred to Dachau Concentration Camp where, on September 12th, 1944, she was murdered by the Schutzstaffel (SS). In 1949, Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

Violette Szabo | b. June 26th, 1921, France – d. February 5th, 1945, Ravensbrück Concentration Camp

Young, brave & beautiful, Szabo was inducted into the SOE in 1942, after the death of her husband, Lieutenant Etienne Szabo (Free French Army). She promptly received intense training in communications, demolitions, navigation, escape & evasion, German weapons, unarmed combat & cryptography. Code-named “Louise”, she was parachuted into Nazi-Occupied France on April 5th, 1944 where she successfully reorganized a French resistance network that was previously infiltrated by the Abwehr. This “new group” sabotaged rail & road bridges & Szabo was responsible transmitting locations of German munitions factories to SOE Headquarters via wireless radio, which aided in the establishment of Allied bombing targets. On her second mission to France in June 1944, Szabo coordinated the activities of the Maquis in sabotaging communication lines during German attempts to stem the Normandy landings. She was a passenger in a vehicle that raise the suspicion of German troops unanticipated roadblock near Salon-la-Tour. A firefight ensued & Szabo’s Maquis comrades escaped unharmed amid the confusion; however, Szabo herself was arrested when her STEN sub machine gun ran out of ammunition on June 10th, 1944. She was subsequently transferred to Gestapo Headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch for torture & interrogation. In August 1944, she was moved to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, where she was shot on February 5th, 1945. She was 23 years old. Szabo was the second woman to be awarded the George Cross for her valor, posthumously, by the British Government, on December 17th, 1946.

Madeleine Damerment | b. November 11th, 1917, Lille, France – d. September 13th, 1944, Dachau

Born in Lille, Damerment became actively involved with the French Resistance following France’s occupation by the Germans. She aided downed RAF pilots in their escape efforts out of France & into neutral territory until 1942 when she was betrayed by a fellow resistance worker, Harold Cole, & forced to flee to England. Once in England, Damerment volunteered to join the SOE & received training to be a courier for the Bricklayer network – a smaller resistance group comprised of businessmen, lawyers, bankers & engineers who specialized in economical & financial matters in view of the Allied landings on D-day. On February 28th, 1944, Damerment & agents Lionel Lee & France Antelme were parachuted into an open field outside the city of Chartres, France only to be immediately apprehended by the waiting Gestapo. Damerment was subjected to torture at the hands of interrogators before being transferred to Dachau Concentration Camp alongside comrades Eliane Plewman, Yolande Beekman & Noor Inayat Khan. On September 13th, 1944, all four women were summoned to a secluded courtyard & forced to kneel in pairs. They were then shot, execution style, in the back of the head. Damerment was posthumously recognized for her heroism during the war & awarded the Legion of Honor, Croix de Guerre, & the Médaille de la Résistance.

Vera Leigh | b. March 17th, 1903, Leeds, England – d.  July 6th, 1944, Natzweiler-Struthof

In May 1940, Leigh joined the French Resistance Army & became involved in underground escape lines established to guide fugitive Allied servicemen out of occupied France. In 1942, Leigh herself utilized these same routes. Prior to reaching her destination, she was apprehended & found herself imprisoned for many months at Miranda de Ebro – an interment camp near Bilbao . With assistance from a British Embassy official, she was released from the camp & completed her journey to England. When she arrived, she immediately volunteered to join the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), an organization that worked extremely closely with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). After an impressive interview with the War Office, she became a British special agent. Given the codename “Simone”, Leigh was dispatched to the Tours on May 14th, 1943 & was received by Henri Dericourt – an F section air movements officer. Her mission was to develop a new “sub-circuit” known as the Inventor network pre-designed to work alongside the Prosper network. After receiving instructions in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Leigh was transferred to an apartment in Paris & couriered messages in & out of the city. On October 30th, 1943, Leigh was arrested in a café near Place des Ternes. 8 months later, on July 6th, 1944, Leigh & fellow agents, Diana Rowden, Andrée Borrel & Sonya Olschanezky were taken to a concentration camp at Natzweiler-Struthof. Upon arrival, they were injected with phenol & placed in the crematorium furnace. Leigh was posthumously awarded the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.

Diana Rowden | b. January 31st, 1915, London, England – d. July 6th, 1944, Natzweiler-Struthof, France

In September 1941, Rowden joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAFF) & was employed at the department of the Chief of Air Staff until July 1942, when she received a promotion to Section Officer at Moreton-in-the-Marsh. Her fluency in the French language captured the attentions of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) & she was inducted into the secret organization. Bearing the codename “Paulette”, she was flown to Le Mans with Noor Inayat Khan & Cicily Lefort on June 16th, 1943. She was assigned to Saint-Amour-Bellevue where she joined the Acrobat network, headed by John Starr.  For the next few months, she acted as a courier delivering messages to agents situated in Marseilles, Lyon & Paris. She also developed plans to sabotage the Peugeot factory at Sochaux (where German turrets & aircraft were assembled) with the aid of Harry Rée. In mid-November 1943, Rowden received a transmission from Baker Street informing her of the arrival of a new special agent. On November 18th the two made contact, & Rowden was deceived when she discovered that this “agent” was, in fact, a German spy strategically planted by the Abwehr. Rowden was arrested with two other members of the resistance network at Lons-le-Saunier. She was taken to Gestapo Headquarters & interrogated for 2 weeks before being transferred to Fresnes prison. On July 6th, 1944, Rowden, alongside fellow agents, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel & Sonya Olschanezky, was escorted to Natzweiler-Stuthof where she were injected with phenol & subsequently cremated. These events were witnessed by captured SOE agents Brian Stonehouse & Albert Guérisse (a member of the Belgian resistance). Posthumously, Rowden was awarded the MBE & the Croix de Guerre. Her name can be found on the “Roll of Honor” on the Valençay SOE Memorial in the Indre department of France.


Lisé de Baissac | b. May 11th, 1905, Mauritius – d. March 28th, 2004, Marseille, France

Born to a French family in Mauritius, Baissac escaped to England by way of Spain with the aid of the American Consulate during the invasion of France. When the SOE began recruiting women, Baissac immediately volunteered. On September 24th, 1942 she & Andrée Borrel were among the first female SOE agents to be parachuted into Nazi-Occupied territory. Her mission was to establish safe houses in Poitiers where future SOE agents could be settled into this secret life of espionage. Baissasc acted as a liaison officer on the Scientest Network & communicated with both the Physician & Bricklayer networks headed by Francis Suttill & France Antelme. She was to erect a new circuit & provide a center where agents could be accommodated with complete security & organize safe drops of arms & ammunition from the UK to assist the French Resistance. She completed these tasks under the guise of an amateur archaeologist looking for rock specimens. This allowed her to bicycle around the countryside, unopposed, to reconnoitre potential parachute drop-zones for RAF squadrons. In 1943, the Physician & Artist networks were infiltrated by the Gestapo & on the eve of  August 16th, Baissac was flown back to England for safety. On April 9th, 1944, Baissac returned to France to aid the Pimento network & assumed the new codename “Marguerite”. She came into political conflict with members of the group & rejoined her brother Claude in Normandy. It was here that she gathered information on German dispositions & forwarded them to the Allied forces. Baissac survived the war & was awarded the Croix De Guerre for her bravery. She died on March 28th, 2004 in Marseille.

Virginia Hall | b. April 6th, 1906, Baltimore, Maryland, USA – d. July 14th, 1982, Washington, DC, USA

Hall was living in Paris & aiding the French Ambulance Service Unit during the outbreak of WW2. When the Führer’s armies invaded France in May 1940, Hall fled to London where she found employment at the US Embassy. In 1941, Hall was recruited by the Special Operations Executive & agreed to become a British special agent. Given the codename “Marie” & under the guise of a reporter from the New York Post, Hall aided in the establishment of resistance networks in Vichy, France & spent a further 15 months coordinating the activities of the French Underground. Hall barely escaped to Spain when the Nazis seized the remaining departments of France in 1942.  In July 1943, she “quietly” became a member of the Order of the British Empire out of fear that it may compromise her identity as an “active operative”. In her absence from France, Hall became a representative for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Special Operations Branch & on March 21st, 1944 submitted a request to return to France. This wish was promptly granted by the OSS & she was able to elude the Gestapo long enough to make contact with a resistance ring in Haute-Loire. Here, she mapped out drop zones for air supplies & commandos from England, located safe houses & connected with a Jedburg team after the success of the Allied Landings in Normandy. She also helped train 3 resistance battalions in Guerrilla Warfare techniques & was able to inform the Allies that the German General Staff had relocated its headquarters to Le Puy. Hall survived the war & was rewarded the Distinguished Service Cross by President Harry S. Truman in 1945. In 1951, she joined the CIA where she became an intelligence analyst on French parliamentary affairs. Hall retired from the CIA in 1966 & died in Washington, DC in 1982.

Nancy Wake | b. August 30th, 1912, Wellington, New Zealand – present, Richmond, London, England

Wake was the Allies most heavily decorated servicewoman of WW2 & the Gestapo‘s most-wanted special agent. She was codenamed “The White Mouse” because of her uncanny ability to evade capture. After France’s occupation, Wake became a courier for a French Resistance group & later joined the Escape network, headed by Ian Garrow. When her network was betrayed in late 1942, she was captured in Toulouse, but was released days later. She managed to escaped to Britain via Spain & the Pyrenees & upon arrival, was recruited by the SOE. On the eve of April 29th, 1944, Wake was  parachuted into the Auvergne & became a liaison officer between London & the local Maquis groups under the command of Henri Tardivat. Wake became a saboteur & an organizer who lead an army of 7,000 Maquisard troops in Guerilla Warfare against 22,000 SS soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties – the Maquis only suffering a mere 100. Her French comrades  commended her spirit when she killed an SS Sentry barehanded to prevent the raising of an alarm during an raid. After the war, Wake received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the George Medal, the Médaille de la Resistance & the thrice the Croix de Guerre. In 1970, she was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. In 2004, she was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. In April 2006, she was awarded the New Zealand‘s highest honor, the RSA Badge in Gold. Wake currently resides in London, England.

Of the Special Operations Executive’s 55 female agents dispatched into Occupied territory during WW2, 13 were killed in action or died in Nazi concentration camps.

  1. Holy wow. Those last couple kicked major *ss. I’m glad you left the ones who survived for last.

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