Sunday, July 05, 2015

Brave WWI and WWII Women Agents

A lady friend of mrs maytrees gave me as a birthday present the non fiction work by Sarah Helm entitled "A Life in Secrets The Story of Vera  Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE".

The print in the book is rather small but even so the paperback version runs to over 460 pages which promised to be quite a daunting read at least compared with the contemporary British American and Scandinavian detective Kindle  novels that I usually read on the District Line from Wimbledon to Temple each morning.

In fact A Life in Secrets proved a riveting read and the half an hour daily installments on the way to work provided the right volume of the sad but gripping accounts of the 12 brave young women who were parachuted behind enemy lines in WWII and never returned home.

It turns out if my understanding is correct that there was in the midst of the Special Operations Executive during WWII a traitor who betrayed many of the young women to the enemy. This led to some being captured almost immediately after they parachuted into occupied France. Their radios were then taken over by the Germans who were able often through slackness in the London HQ to relay false information and even obtain large supplies of military equipment and French Francs for enemy use from the British.

The individual accounts of Vera Atkins'es work in tracing the lost women are riveting reading though tragically that led her to several  concentration camps where some of the women were executed or died.

Sadly during all wars, deaths and disasters occur and good people suffer greatly but these brave women appear in my humble opinion to have suffered further by the then prevalent discriminatory and patronising treatment meted out to them by some in the military. Vera too appears to have been a great lady though in my humble opinion she should have worked more in and  as a team as regards selecting and training the affected girls but perhaps she did not (appear to me) to do so because of society's general attitude  towards the female half of the human race at the time,

Interestingly last week as I was reading this hugely interesting book I  attended an end of term prayer and  singing celebration of the state Grey Coat Hospital (girls') School at their local church which is Westminster Abbey. Not ever having attended a service at the Anglican  Cathedral in Westminster before I was delighted to attend. The concert itself was especially good and the  music and singing of their Carribean  girls' choir was  terrific and reminded me of the West Indian HCPT Groups' Trust mass at Lourdes.

However what was especially interesting to me was the Dean's sermon which outlined  the life of  Edith Cavell a red cross nurse during WWI who was  like the WWII  women  described in Sarah Helm's book, executed, The dean described  the crowds along Victoria Street who came to pay their respects during the procession from Victoria to Westminster Abbey.  

The Edith Cavell website summarises some parts of her life and death as follows:

Edith cared for all the wounded, regardless of nationality. She was greatly criticised by many at the time for assisting the German and Austrian soldiers, when they were fighting against the British. Edith soon began to work with others to smuggle the Allied soldiers that she was caring for, out of the hospital and into neutral Holland. After a lengthy investigation, the suspicions of the German Officials grew and Edith, along with others, was arrested. She knew of the implications in being involved with the underground, so Edith kept it a secret from many of her nurses. 
When interrogated by the Officials, Edith provided all of the details surrounding the underground and she was sent to trial with 35 others. Most were sentenced to hard labour.
Despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage.
 
However perhaps a lesson to be learned from Edith Cavell's life and death as well as those of the WWII women is to be found in Edith Cavell's statement that:
"...   in view of god and eternity patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." Edith Cavell 1915
"I have no 

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