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Brand: Rick Stroud

Lonely Courage

by Rick Stroud

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Lonely Courage

`A fascinating, superbly researched and revelatory book - told with tremendous pace and excitement' William Boyd 'This compelling and complete account of the extraordinarily courageous women of SOE is at turns enthralling, edge-of-smart exciting and also heart-breaking. The way in which they were sent into Nazi-occupied Europe and left to face unspeakable danger remains astonishing and Stroud's book is a reminder and fitting testimony to their immense bravery.' James Holland On 18 June 1940 General de Gaulle broadcast from London to his countrymen in France about the catastrophe that had overtaken their nation - the victory of the invading Germans. He declared `Is defeat final? No! .

. . the flame of French Resistance must not and will not be extinguished'.

The Resistance began almost immediately. At first it was made up of small, disorganised groups working in isolation. But by the time of the liberation in 1944 around 400,000 French citizens, nearly 2 per cent of the population, were involved.

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) set up by Winston Churchill in 1941 saw its role in France as helping the Resistance by recruiting and organising guerrilla fighters; supplying and training them; and then disrupting the invaders by any means necessary. The basic SOE unit was a team of three: a leader, a wireless operator and a courier. These teams operated in Resistance circuits and the agents were given random codenames.

The aim of this work was to prepare for the invasion of Europe by Allied forces and the eventual liberation of France. It was soon decided that women would play a vital role. There were 39 female agents recruited from all walks of life, ranging from a London shop assistant to a Polish aristocrat.

What linked them was that they knew France well, were fluent in French and were prepared to sacrifice everything to help defeat the enemy. The women trained alongside the men, learning how to disappear into the background, how to operate a radio transmitter and how to kill a man with their bare hands. Once trained they were infiltrated behind the lines by parachute or tiny aircraft that could land in remote fields.

Some of the women went on to lead thousands of Resistance fighters, while others were arrested, brutally interrogated and sent to concentration camps where they endured torment and death. Lonely Courage tells their story and sheds light on what life was really like for these brave women who tumbled from the sky.

Staff Reviews

Rick Stroud has written previously well received books about Second World War events including the kidnap of General Heinrich Kreipe by Patrick Leigh Fermor in Crete in 1944 and the Battle of El Alamein. He now turns his attention to the stories of some of the 39 women who worked in occupied France for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), stemming from his life-long fascination with these extraordinary people, many of whom who came from relatively ordinary lives. They were recruited after SOE convinced Churchill that women should not be barred from this undercover work. Selwyn Jepson, the relevant official, first had to overcome the hostility of his superiors, as he believed women were better suited because they had a greater capacity than men for "cool and lonely courage", hence the book's title. Who were they? Andrée Borrel was a shop assistant, Noor Kan a writer of children's books, Violette Szabo (perhaps the most famous), also a shopworker. What linked them was that they knew France well, were fluent in French and were prepared to risk their lives. Together they displayed astonishing courage, being parachuted into France to assist the Resistance, living in constant danger of betrayal, and some of them going to horrific deaths at the hands of the occupying forces. The book is written from a chronological perspective so there is a great deal of switching between their different stories which can be confusing. There is also perhaps too much background information about contemporaneous events in the war. However, it is still an exciting read and would be of interest not just to those who study the Second World War, the role of the Intelligence Services, and the courage of individual women throughout history, but also more general readers interested in real-life adventure. John Hutchings Friends of the National Archives http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/get-involved/friends.htm Friends of The National Archives