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Women Spies: Mom what did you do during the war?


Reading + Entertainment

  • Woman in the shadows of a dark alley

Phil, Queen's Square | January 2, 2020

There are a number of excellent recent non-fiction books exploring the role women spies have made to the WWII war effort, in part due to the opening of wartime archives, and the desire to tell women’s stories.

If you enjoyed novels like Pam Jenoff’s  Lost Girls of Paris or Kate Quinn’s Alice Network but want to know more, here’s a selection of great page turning true stories of women spies.

In Lynne Olson’s Madame Fourcade’s Secret War,  great storytelling will keep you up late at night as she tells the story of the highest ranking Frenchwoman who headed the largest spy network in occupied France. What you’re left with are the stories of ordinary citizens who risked certain death if caught, driven by the ethics of never giving in to evil.

Code Name: Lise  tells the story of Britain’s most highly decorated female spy: Odette Sansom. Loftis draws on personal interview, recently declassified documents, and memoirs of key British spy personnel to tell her story, the work she did, the torture she endured at the hands of the Gestapo, and her eventual liberation at the war’s end.

D-Day Girls by Sarah Crown touches briefly on Odette Sansom while focusing more on the roles of Lise de Baissac and Andree Borrel who worked with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) sabotaging trains hydro lines, and relayed defensive positions and troop movement back to the Allies.

Sonia Purnell’s A Woman of No Importance tells the story of a most unlikely American spy, Virginia Hall: a woman with a prosthetic leg, deployed to occupied Europe with the task of blowing up enemy resources, and establishing intricate spy networks.

In all cases, these books highlight the exceptional work done by women during the war; often without the full support of their male counterpoints, under fierce counter resistance actions of the Gestapo.

Book cover of Madame Fourcade's secret war by Lynne Olsen Book cover of Code name: Lise by Larry Loftis Book cover of D-day girls by Sarah Rose Book cover of A women of no importance by Sonia Purnell