A Woman Of No Importance-The Untold Story Of The American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, By Sonia Purnell.
Chosen as Best Book Of The Year by NPR, the New York Library, Amazon, the Seattle Times, the Washington Independent Review of Books, PopSugar, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, BookBrowse, the Spector, and The Times of London.
Virginia Hall-A Baltimore Socialite
In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”.
The target in their sights was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive, the spy organization dubbed Winston Churchill’s “Ministry of Urgentlemanly Warfare.”. She became the first-Allied Woman deployed behind enemy lines and-despite her prosthetic leg-helped to light the flame of the French Resistance, revolutionizing secret warfare as we know it.
Virginia established vast spy networks throughout France, called weapons and explosives down from the skies, and became a linchpin for the Resistance. Even as her face covered wanted posters and a bounty was placed on her head, Virginia refused order after ordering to evacuate.
She finally escaped through a death-defying hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown. But she plunged back in, adamant that she had more lives to save, and led a victorious guerrilla campaign, liberating swathes of France from the Nazis after D-Day.
Sonia Purnell (author) Examines The Life Of Hall
Throughout this lively examination of the life of Virginia Hall (1906-1982), British biographer and journalist Purnell shows how, if Hall had been a man, dropping undercover in and out of occupied Vichy, Paris, and Lyon, setting up state houses, and coordinating couriers of the Resistance, she would now be as famous as James Bond.
Hall dreamed of a career in the American Foreign Service-but over and over she was relegated to the secretary’s desk.
In 1933, a freak hunting accident in Turkey left her with an amputated left leg, a horrendous experience that only seemed to steel her resolve to live her life as she pleased.
Virginia Hall volunteered to drive ambulances for the service de Sante’ de Arme’es, after the outbreak of Nazi aggression in 1939 and subsequently the invasion of France. When a fortuitous meeting with an agent of the Special Operations Executive, the fledgling British secret service, sealed her fate.
Impressed by her courage, poise, and Independence the Special Operations Executive tasked Hall with returning to occupied France to help coordinate the work of local Resistance leaders and future SOE agents.
Purnell writes, Hall’s appointment, “was an outstanding act of faith in her abilities, which had for so long been belittled or ignored.”.
Hall’s daring efforts in the breakout of Resistance prisoners in the Vichy-run internment camp of Mauzac, in March 1942, was a stunning achievement considering the enormous danger of getting caught and tortured by the Gestapo.
About The Author: Sonia Purnell
Sonia Purnell is a biographer and journalist who has worked for The Guardian, The Sunday Times, and the Daily Telegraph. Her book, Clementine: The Life Of Mrs. Winston Churchill (published as First Lady in the U.K.) was chosen as a book of the year by The Telegraph and The Independent, and was a finalist for the Plutarch Award. Her first book, Just Boris, was long listed for the Orwell prize.
Remaining An Enigma, Hall Operated In The Shadows
Hall, operated in the shadows, and that was their she was happiest. Even to her closest allies in France, she seemed to have no home or family or regiment, merely a burning desire to defeat the Nazis.
They knew neither her real name nor her nationality, nor how she had arrived in their midst. Constantly changing in her looks and demeanor, surfacing without notice across whole swaths of France, only to disappear again as suddenly, she remained an enigma throughout the war and in some ways after it, too. Hall made a statement that she is “unwilling to talk about what she did.”. Even up to the day she died, in 1982.
Tracing And Tracking This Story: Purnell’s Quest For The Truth
Purnell writes: “Even now, tracing her story has involved three solid years of detective work, tasking me from the National Archives in London, the Resistance files in Lyon, and the parachuted drop zones in the Haute-Loire, to the judicial dossiers of Paris and even the white marble corridors of CIA headquarters at Langley.”.
Her search led her through nine levels of security clearance and into the heart of today’s world of American espionage.
Purnell goes on to state that she had to operate in enemy territory with a former member of Britian’s Special Forces and ex-intelligence officers from both sides of the Atlantic. She goes on to say that she tracked down files that were missing, and discovered that others remain mysteriously lost or accounted for. Purnell goes on to say: “I have spent days drawing diagrams matching dozens of code names with scores of her missions, months hunting for remaining extracts of those strange ‘disappeared’ papers; years digging out forgotten documents and memoirs.”.
How One Woman Changed The Tide Of History
This is not a military account of the battle for France, nor an analysis of the shifting shapes of espionage or the evolving role of Special Forces, although of course, they weave a rich and dramatic background to Virginia’s tale.
This book is rather an attempt to reveal how one woman really did help turn the tide, in the end, into resolve and ultimately triumph, even against the backdrop of a horrifying conflict that casts its long shadow over the way we live today. How women can step out of the construct of conventional femininity to defy all the stereotypes, if only they are given the chance. And how the desperate urgencies of war can, perversely open up opportunities that normal life tragically keeps closed.
Based on new and extensive research, Sonia Purnell has for the first time uncovered the full secret life of Virginia Hall-an astounding and inspiring story of heroism, spycraft, resistance, and personal triumph over shocking adversity. A Woman Of No Importance is the breathtaking story of how one woman’s fierce persistence helped win the war.
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