|Virginia Hall receiving her Distinguished Service Cross|
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Sisterhood of Spies
I love the research phase of writing – I unearth some of the most interesting information! I'm currently researching my next story – tentatively entitled Under Cover. It's the third in my series about war correspondent Ruth Brown who is stationed in London during World War II. In this story she will be recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA, to take part in one of their operations. I stumbled on the idea after reading Elizabeth McIntosh's book Sisterhood of Spies. Ms. McIntosh served with the OSS in Hawaii, Burma and China during WWII.
Part of what I enjoy learning about the past is studying about women in the workforce and how they dealt with the limitations that were forced on them. You may have heard the expression that women were considered the “fairer sex.” Does that sound chivalrous to you? There might have been that aspect to it, but the overriding philosophy was that women were not capable of doing what men were doing – physically, emotionally or mentally. Time after time, the women of the OSS proved this theory wrong - working in cartography and cryptography, organizing resistance groups, initiating rumors, forging documents, and infiltrating enemy lines.
One of the most famous of all OSS women spies is Virginia Hall. Born in Baltimore, Maryland (my home town!) she joined the British Special Operations Executive in 1941 then transferred to OSS in 1944. According to Ms. McIntosh's book, Hall entered Vichy France twice to organize, train and supply French resistance fronts while simultaneously operating an “underground railroad” to assist the escape of downed Allied pilots to neutral or friendly countries. She also maintained radio communications between London OSS headquarters and resistance forces in the Haute-Loire district.
The Gestapo listed Hall on their “most wanted” list as follows: “The woman who limps is one of the most dangerous Allied agents in France. We must find and destroy her.” Why did she limp? Due to an accident, her left leg had been amputated below the knee. She wore a wooden prosthetic that she nicknamed Cuthbert. Which of us would have such pluck and bravery?