Virginia Hall

Since writing about her yesterday, curiosity had gotten the best of me, and I read a bit more on her. What an amazing woman.

As to David Holahan’s statement that ” James Bond had nothing on her”, Bond of course was some fantasy of Ian Fleming. To think that some spy would arrive with a self-confident (arrogant?) attitude in an Aston Martin and tux, well, of course real spies are the opposite. Most times a person who one would least suspect. When the best have disappeared the world is left wondering who they were, or at least what they looked like.

When the Manhattan Project was started, “an informant in the British civil service notified the Soviets. As the top-secret plan to build the bomb, called the Manhattan Project, took shape in the United States, the Soviet spy ring got wind of it before the FBI knew of the secret program’s existence.” It was 4 years after the war before  the identity of one, Klaus Fuchs, was discovered.

Most people know the story of Francis Gary Powers, the U2 pilot who was shot down over the Soviet Union. How many people know anything about the Soviet spy he was exchanged for on that Berlin Bridge, Rudolf Abel? Look at this guy – the “anti Bond”?

Virginia Hall

“Soviet intelligence officer Rudolf Abel on a 1990 USSR commemorative stamp” —Courtesy Wikipedia

There was a great Tom Hanks movie that detailed this swap.

Markus Wolf, a spy considered by the West to be one of the best spymasters from the Eastern Bloc,  was known for decades in the West as “the man without a face”.

So anyway, a few more things about this remarkable woman, Virginia Hall, as learned by the author, Sonia Purnell.

Known as the “Limping Lady” because of a prosthetic wooden leg (she named Cuthbert!) , she had 20 different aliases. She was on the German’s most wanted list.

She was discovered by the Gestapo and in escaping, chose the one escape route they couldn’t imagine her taking – an 8,000 foot climb over the Pyrenees into Spain. During this climb, she radioed her SOE handlers and said that “Cuthbert was giving me trouble”. The SOE, not knowing who Cuthbert was, replied: “If Cuthbert is giving you difficulty, have him eliminated“.

The Nazi secret police were hunting her. They had distributed “wanted” posters throughout Vichy France, posters with a sketch of a sharp-featured woman with shoulder-length hair and wide-set eyes, details provided by French double agents. They were determined to stop her, an unknown “woman with a limp” who had established resistance networks, located drop zones for money and weapons and helped downed airmen and escaped POWs travel to safety. The Gestapo’s orders were clear and merciless: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”

In addition to the book, apparently there will be movie about her due this year.

There’s an interview with the author and an audio file you can download.

I’m ordering the book as soon as I publish this…Can hardly wait for the movie if it doesn’t have a lot of screenwriter embellishment. Virginia sounds like she didn’t need any embellishment in that remarkable career.

Update 05/01/19 0057: Just to show you how dangerous the world of spy-craft is, the French double agent who gave her identity to the Gestapo was a Catholic priest. As detailed in the Purnell interview, this priest would give fiery anti German sermons in church and gain the confidence of parishioners who would reveal in confession that they were in the resistance.

And to show you how determined and versatile Hall was, after escaping into Spain she later reentered France under a new disguise and identity. Amazing.



Filed under Books, Good Stuff, History, Media, Patriotism

2 responses to “Virginia Hall

  1. Another one of the remarkable women of SOE was Krystyna Skarbek (Christine Granville). There is a good documentary about her as part of the ‘Secret War’ series, available at Amazon…#11 in the series. Also a documentary on YouTube:

    Her SOE partner in occupied France was Francis Cammaerts, a Belgian/British man who organized SOE activities across a broad territory in Southern France. I spent half a day with him when in France in 2001—one of the most interesting people I have met.

    • Bill Brandt

      I am now reading the book woman of no importance and she goes into the early days of the SOE. I have all that much more admiration for those women.

      In the early days they didn’t expect most of these agents to live more than a few days.

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