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The Role of Female Spies in WWI and WWII

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: History
Wordcount: 5424 words Published: 6th Sep 2021

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The role of women in the front line, is still hotly debated today; but women’s involvement in warfare has it roots deeply entrenched in ancient times. During WWI and WWII in the world of espionage women were to play a major part both in the front line and behind the scenes. It was a role that had no gender; women who became spies did so successfully, they were seen to be no threat and this enabled them maintain a good cover. The female heroes that arose in WWI and WWII proved to be brilliant, extremely brave, and extremely interesting characters. Their work was invaluable to the allied resistance movements.

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World War I

Mata Hari is probably the best remembered name in espionage, today however, most scholars would think of Hari as the most misunderstood and tragic figure in espionage; essentially as ‘the spy that never was’. Her real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle McLeod, born in the Netherlands in 1876. She posed as an exotic dancer from Malaysia and became a European celebrity. She was captured and accused by the French as spying for the Germans, to which she was executed for. There has been much investigation into her role as a spy, with little evidence to show for it. It seems likely that Hari pretended to spy for monetary gains, even herself admitting she was a much better harlot than traitor.

Sarah Aaronson was a member of the espionage group Nili and was known as the Joan of Arc of Israel. Aaronson fought against the German and Turkish activity in Palestine in WWI. Alongside her brother and friend Aaronson oversaw and led spy rings that passed information to the British. This was done via a row boat which was taken out past the horizon where it linked up with British troops. On one occasion Aaronson was captured by the Turks and brutally tortured for information surrounding her accomplices. She revealed nothing and was eventually executed; her brother hearing of her bravery and silence took revenge on the Turks in Jaffa borrowing a submachine from the British.

Marthe McKenna also known as Marthe Cnockaert McKenna was recruited as a spy after the German invasion of her village Westroosebeke, Belgium in August 1914. McKenna, who spoke several languages held the cover as a hospital nurse. She was held in high regard by the German medical authorities for her devotion in duties, even being awarded the Iron Cross for humanitarian services. McKenna’s virtuous cover enabled her to entice information from German officers, both doctors and patients, which she then later relayed to agents at local churches under her cover as ‘Laura’ in the British Intelligence Service. McKenna was able to destroy a telephone link that had been placed behind the allied lines, which had been used by a priest and the German Forces. She arranged for a German to be executed after he had tried to recruit her to spy on the British. McKenna had also discovered a forgotten tunnel sewer system that ran under a German ammo dump; she was assigned to put dynamite in the tunnel, but was discovered after losing her watch bearing her initial. She was arrested and sentenced to death, fortunately due to her award of the Iron Cross; she was given life in prison. McKenna was only held for two years when prison doors were opened by the declaration of armistice. She was later honoured by both the Belgian and French Legions of Honour and by Winston Churchill for her bravery and ‘distinguished service in the field’.

Edith Cavell was an English nurse, similar to McKenna, who ended up serving at the Berkendael Institute, outside of Brussels, Belgium. She was a brilliant teacher, passing on the concepts of nursing used by Florence Nightingale, to which she was honoured with the title of the ‘founder of modern-day nursing’. When the Germans took the institute over and commissioned it as a military hospital Cavell stayed on under the Red Cross, serving all nationalities. During the battle of Mons, Belgium Cavell helped some 200 allied soldiers who had got stranded behind enemy lines to get back to their units. She was eventually captured and charged with harbouring foreign soldiers as opposed to espionage. Cavell was convicted and shot by firing squad. When her body was returned to England, a service in her honour was held at Westminster Abbey, led by King George V. A statue was then erected in her honour in St Martin’s in the Park, the epitaph reading – ‘of Humanity, Fortitude, Devotion, Sacrifice’. Cavell’s bravery and devotion helped to inspire many more to enlist voluntarily into the English forces.

Marthe Richard is described as the greatest of the women spies in France during the war periods. In 1914 she helped to found the L’Union patriotique des aviatrices françaises – Patriotic Union of French Women Aviators. In 1916, she became a spy under Captain George Ladoux and part of her cover was to be the mistress of Von Krohn a German Naval Attaché and head of a German spy ring. Upon returning to France she discovered Captain Ladoux was a double agent and had him arrested. Her spy work continued into WWII, becoming close with members of the Gestapo including that of François Spirito, Richard became hugely admired by France and hated by the Germans. Richard was highly decorated by the French and later went into French politics, campaigning towards the closing of French brothels in 1946.

Elizabeth Friedman served as a cryptanalyst for the US Treasury Department’s Bureau of Prohibition and Customs. She was recruited in 1916 to help document the history and evolution of secret communications. Freidman broke encoded radio messages that were used by international smuggling and drug rings.

Ruth Wilson was recruited in 1918 for cryptologic work by the US MI-8 department (the precursor of the National Security Agency – NSA). She went onto to become a Japanese linguist and help break a variety of codes used in Central and South America.

Agnes Meyer Driscoll was a brilliant American scholar who majored in Mathematics, Physics, foreign languages and music. In 1918 she was recruited as a Navy chief Yeoman (female), and was assigned to the Director of Naval Communications Code and Signal Unit. Driscoll advocated the use of machines to encipher and decipher messages, co-developing the US Navy’s ‘CM’ cipher machine. In the 1920s Driscoll broke Japan’s Red Book Code, and in the 1930s, she broke Japan’s Blue Book Code, and she is credited in helping to break the Japanese operational code JN-25. This greatly aided America’s response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

World War II

By the advent of WWII, espionage had become essential in times of war. There were two main organisations that oversaw intelligence activities; they were the British SOE – Special Operations Executive and the American OSS – the Office of Strategic Services. Their aim was to recruit ordinary men and women alongside traditional spies. Leading apparently normal lives, these men and women gathered information on strategic activities and locations, relaying it back to their relevant sources. The British SOE were active in every occupied country within Europe, helping and aiding resistance groups, whilst monitoring enemy movements; the American OSS helped to overlap the SOE and infiltrated into the Pacific Theatre. The OSS was eventually to go on to become the CIA – Central Intelligence Agency.

Yolande Beekman was born to a Swiss family in Paris under the name Yolande Elsa Maria Unternahrer. She moved as a child to London and grew up fluent in several Languages. During WWII she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as a wireless operator, with her wireless skills and multi-language capabilities she was soon recruited by the SOE. She was dropped in France in September 1943 by the Royal Air Force and went to work as a wireless operator under the codename of Mariette and alias Yvonne, for Gustave Biéler of the ‘MUSICIAN’ Network, at Saint-Quentin in the department of Aisne. She was a valued agent both for her transmissions to London and for heading up the distribution of materials that had been dropped by allied planes. In January 1944 Beekman and Biéler were arrested by the Gestapo and tortured at the Gestapo headquarters in Saint- Quentin, but neither of them revealed anything. She was separated from Biéler (who was later executed), and held in 1944 in prisons in Paris, France and Karlsruhe, Germany, sharing her cell on several occasions with other SOE agents. She was later interred at Dachau concentration camp with fellow agents Eliane Plewman, Noor Inayat Khan and Madeleine Damerment. On the morning of September the 13th, all four women where executed, being shot through the back of the head. Their bodies were later cremated. Beekman was later honoured with the French Croix de Guerre ‘Cross of War’ and she is listed on the Roll of Honour on the Valençay SOE Memorial in the town of Valençay.

Lisé Marie Jeanette de Baissac was born in Mauritius to a French family, but was a British subject. After arriving in England she was able to secure a job at the Daily Sketch with the help of Lady Kemsley. As soon as the SOE accepted women Baissac joined up, she was accepted straight away, her training however was to prepare her to run her own circuit and not the usual courier or wireless operator. In 1942 Baissac and fellow SOE agent Andrée Borrel parachuted into France, landing in the village of Boisrenard near to the town of Mer. Their mission was to set up a safe house in Poitiers and look after new agents. Working as liaison officer on the ‘Scientist’ network and the ‘BRICKLAYER’ network, Baissac ran a circuit allowing safe meetings, information and help to any agents in the area, along with any arms shipments for the French resistance. She had a number of codenames and her cover was that of a poor widow or amateur archaeologist; this proved an effective cover when riding around the countryside looking for reconnaissance from parachute drops. When in 1943 the Gestapo had begun to penetrate several of the allies’ networks, Baissac returned to the UK and was sent to RAF Ringway and assisted in the training of new agents, it was during this training that Baissac broke her leg.

She returned to France when her leg had healed now training agents in the Pimento network. In 1944 she joined her brother Claude, who had made his way to Normandy, and after D-Day gathered German dispositions and passed the information over to the allies, Baissac even rent a room in occupied German territory. When the US liberated the area Baissac was found in her F.A.N.Y (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) uniform which she had kept hidden in France.

Madeleine Zoe Damerment was born in France, the daughter of the Headpostmaster of Lille. Under German occupation her family became involved in the French Resistance, and the innocent 22 year old Damerment went to work as an assistant to Michael Trotobas on the escape line that had been set up by Albert Guérisse. She helped to assist British Airmen that had been downed, to escape France, however in 1942 it is believed a fellow resistance worker betrayed the group, and Damerment fled to England. She volunteered for the SOE and was trained to be a courier in the ‘BRICKLAYER’ network. In 1944 she and two other SOE agents were parachuted into Chartres, France but were immediately arrested by waiting Gestapo. She was then sent to the Gestapo headquarters on the 84 Avenue Foch in Paris, and tortured. Revealing little she was then interred in at Dachau concentration camp with fellow agents Eliane Plewman, Noor Inayat Khan and Yolande Beekman, the agents were then executed.

Eliane Plewman was born in France, to an English father and Spanish mother, and was educated in Spain and England. At the outbreak of WWII, Plewman was working for the British Embassy in Madrid and at Lisbon. By 1942, she was in Britain working for the Spanish section at the Ministry of Information. She then joined the SOE in 1943, and under codename ‘Gaby’ parachuted into France and joined a ‘MONK’ resistance network. She worked as a courier in the areas of Marseilles, St Raphael and Roquebrune. By March 1944 the network had been betrayed to the Gestapo and Plewman was arrested and interrogated for three weeks at Fresnes prison before being transferred to Dachau concentration camp. Plewman along with fellow SOE agents Noor Inayat Khan, Madeleine Damerment and Yolande Beekman, were then executed.

Odette Samson Hallowes was born as Odette Marie Céline to Gaston Brailly, the WWI hero who was killed at Verdun in 1918. At seven Hallowes spent a year being blind and unable to move her limbs as a result of catching polio. She married Roy Sansom an Englishman, whom she’d met in Boulogne, and then moved with him to England. She had three daughters and in 1940 Sansom enlisted into the British Forces. In 1942, a broadcast from the Admiralty appealed for postcards or family photographs taken on the continent for possible war use. Hallowes wrote a letter describing the photos she had taken around the French Coast and English Chanel; however Hallowes deliberately addressed it to the War Office and not the Admiralty. This resulted in her being enrolled by the SOE into the F.A.N.Y (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). In 1942 she parachuted into Cannes, France and worked with the French resistance as courier to Peter Churchill. In 1943 the network had been betrayed to the Gestapo and Hallowes and Churchill were captured and tortured. She held firm with her cover story of her being Peter’s wife, and him, the nephew of Winston Churchill, hoping their penalty would be a lenient one. She was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp and sentenced to death, but with no fixed date set Hallowes survived the war and gave evidence against prison guards during the war crimes trials in 1946. Hallowes was appointed an MBE and was the first of three WWII, F.A.N.Y members to receive the George Cross; she remains the only woman to have received the George Cross whilst alive. For her work with the French Resistance she was appointed a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.

Vera Atkins was born Vera Maria Rosenberg to a Jewish family in Romania. Her family immigrated to England in 1933, but moved to France a couple of years later, where Atkins studied modern languages at the Sorbonne, Paris. In 1940 Atkins returned to England and in 1941 joined the French section of the SOE. In 1944 she was commissioned as a flight officer in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), her cover was as an assistant to Maurice Buckmaster; in reality she was the section’s intelligence officer. After the war ended Atkins went to Germany on a self-appointed mission to investigate the fate of the 118 ‘F-section’ agents who had disappeared in enemy territory. Her mission was successful, bar one. In 1987 she was appointed Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur.

Sonya Olschanezky was born in Germany to a Russian Jew, Eli Olschanezky, a chemical engineer, who worked as a sales representative for a manufacturer of ladies stockings. At seven years old the family moved to Paris where her father opened a lingerie shop. When the Germans occupied France in 1940, the seventeen year old Olschanezky joined the French Resistance. She was stationed at Châlons-sur-Marne where she carried messages between the SOE agents in the area. In 1942 Jewish persecution evolved under the new leader Henri-Philippe Petain. All Jews where required to wear a six pointed yellow star on their clothing around the heart. Olschanezky was soon captured and awaited extradition to a concentration camp. Her mother hearing the news appealed to friends in Germany, and produced false papers stating that Olschanezky had ‘economically valuable skills’ needed for the war effort. The production of the false papers to a German official, with a monetary bribe secured her freedom. Olschanezky continued with her resistance work, joining the ‘PHYSICIAN’ network and despite the group being betrayed evaded capture until 1944, where she was interred at Fresnes and interrogated by the Gestapo. Olschanezky along with Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel and Diana Rowden where taken to the concentration camp at Natzweiler, where they where each in turn injected with phenol and then cremated.

Diana Hope Rowden joined the French Red Cross at the start of WWII, where she was assigned to the Anglo-American Ambulance Corps. With the allied collapse in France in 1940, Rowden unable to be evacuated, escaped to England via Spain and Portugal in 1941. In September 1941 she joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), working at the Department of the Chief of Air Staff as Assistant Section Officer in intelligence duties. In July 1942 she was posted to Moreton-in-Marsh where she was promoted to Section Officer. In March 1943 she joined as an officer of the SOE F section and by June 1943 she was in the Loire Valley, France with fellow agents Cecily Lefort and Noor Inayat Khan. She was assigned as courier in the ‘ACROBAT’ network, passing messages between agents in the Marseille, Lyon and Paris regions. Rowden also helped Harry Rée to plan the destruction of the Peugeot factory (where tank turrets and engine parts where built for the Germans), at Sochaux. Rowden’s network leader was then arrested and she and wireless operator John Young hid with a French family awaiting further instructions. A new leader was to be sent; unfortunately the Germans had intercepted the intelligence and sent one of their own and Rowden and Young where arrested. Rowden was then taken to 84 Avenue Foch and interrogated for two weeks before being sent to Fresnes. Rowden and other agents of the SOE where then taken to the concentration camp at Natzweiler, where they where each in turn injected with phenol and disposed of.

Vera Leigh was born in Leeds, England. When the Germans entered Paris in 1940, Leigh left to join her fiancé in Lyon, and was soon involved with the French Resistance, helping to run an escape line for Allied troops trapped behind enemy lines. In 1942 she used the same route herself to cross the Pyrenees to Spain, but was captured and imprisoned for several months at the Miranda de Ebro internment camp. With the help of a British Embassy official Leigh was released, and eventually returned to England. Back in England Leigh was then recruited for the F section of the SOE, and she became an Ensign (lowest commissioned officer) for F.A.N.Y (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). She arrived in the Cher Valley, near Tours, France in 1943 and alongside three other agents was to establish a new sub-circuit known as ‘INVENTOR’, working alongside the ‘PROSPER’ network. Leigh took an apartment in Paris, and carried messages in and out of the city as far as the Ardennes. She met her sister’s husband one day at Gare Saint-Lazare, with no thought to her own safety helped him in the running of his safe house for Allied soldiers. She even escorted some of them through the Parisian streets to their next contacts. In October 1943 Leigh was arrested and taken to Fresnes prison, the Germans already aware of her activities. By July 1944 Leigh taken to the concentration camp at Natzweiler, where she Diana Rowden, Andrée Borrel and Sonya Olschanezky where injected with phenol and disposed of. Leigh received the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.

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Andrée Borrel’s work with the resistance started early on in WWII. From August 1940 to late 1941 her home in Cadet-Plage was used as a safe house for the escape network PAT LINE. When Borrel was forced to flee she went to Lisbon and worked at the office of the ‘Free France’. When she moved to England she was immediately recruited by F section of the SOE and she became the first women to be parachuted into France by the SOE alongside Lisé de Baissac. With Francois Suttill, she was a courier of information for the ‘PHYSICIAN’ prosper network, which was based in Paris. But by June 1943 the network had collapsed, and Borrel was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Natzweiler where she was executed.

Virginia Hall was an American who grew up in a privileged family and had wanted to become a diplomat. Her dream was thwarted, when in a riding accident she lost part of her leg, and had to use a wooden prosthesis. Resigning from the State Department in 1939, she went to Paris at the outbreak of war and worked in the ambulance corps until the take over by the Vichy government, at which time she went to England. Once in England she joined the SOE and was sent back to France to help with the resistance. She later had to flee France and walk to Spain through the Pyrenees with her wooden leg. She continued her work there until 1944, when she joined the OSS and went back to France. She continued to help the resistance with the training of further agents, intelligence gathering and founding safe houses to move stranded allied troops. The Germans made her one of the most wanted spies of the war, calling her many aliases, one of which was the ‘woman with the limp’. Hall managed to train herself to walk without a limp and employed many disguises to avoid capture. She was awarded in secrecy the MBE by the British in 1943, whilst still in active service. In 1945 Hall received the Distinguished Service Cross by General William Donovan for services in France and Spain. Hall is the only civilian woman to have received this award in all of WWII. She continued her work after the war in the OSS transferring into the CIA where she stayed until 1966.

Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan was the daughter of Indian royalty and a children’s book author. She joined the SOE in London and obtained the codename ‘Nora Baker’, and served as a radio transmitter in France. Under the codename Madeline she worked with the resistance travelling from safe house to safe house with her radio avoiding the Gestapo. With the collapse of the network Khan was eventually captured in 1944 and was then interred at Dachau concentration camp, Khan along with Eliane Plewman, Madeleine Damerment and Yolande Beekman were all executed. She was the third of three F.A.N.Y members to be awarded the George Cross. She also received the French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star, and was posthumously awarded a British Mention in Dispatches.

Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell Szabo was brought up in London, with a French mother and English father. She married Etienne Szabo a French Foreign Legion Officer, who was killed at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942. Szabo had already recruited in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) back 1941, and after Etienne’s death Szabo offered her services to the SOE. She was trained in escape and evasion, night and day navigation, unarmed combat, demolitions and explosives, along with communications and cryptography. In 1944 she parachuted into Cherbourg, France and quickly went about reorganising a Resistance branch that had been taken out by the Germans. She helped organise sabotage tactics of railways and bridges alongside producing intelligence reports for the Allied bombing targets on the local munitions factories, which were run by the Germans. She returned to England in April 1944, but was back in France in June 1944 (immediately after D-Day), organising the local Maquis (rural guerrilla resistance), in sabotaging communication lines during German attempts to stem the Normandy landings. She was a passenger in a car that was stopped in an unexpected road block, when a gun battle started her Maquis minders escaped. Szabo however is said to have killed several German officers before finally running out of ammunition and then being captured. She was tortured by the Gestapo but revealed nothing and was finally sent to the concentration camp at Ravensbrück, where she was executed.

Amy Elizabeth Thorpe was an American spy who worked for the British Security Coordination; this was a cover group that had been set up in New York in 1940 by MI6 – British Secret Intelligence Service. Thorpe proved an important find to MI6 in helping the Allies understood how the Enigma machine was used Nicknamed the ‘swallow’ she took part in break-ins, one in particular at the Vichy French Embassy in Washington DC, in which she took important code books. Thorpe was also very successful at forming romantic relationships with important figures in order to obtain strategic secrets on the enemy.

Maria Gulovich was a Slovakian schoolteacher who spoke several languages; she joined the resistance after fleeing Czechoslovakia, going to Hungary. She took part in the Slovakian rebellion, working with the Czech, British and American Forces. Gulovich help with downed pilots, Jewish refugees and resistance groups. She along with other members of the OSS were constantly being tracked by German intelligence groups, and being hunted down by SS units. They eventually made their way after months to the Russian lines, moving each night to new locations. In March 1945 Gulovich arrived in Bucharest, and was duly flown to the OSS headquarters in Italy. She was assigned ‘army status’ so she could be paid for her services, and later on became an interpreter in Prague where she met Allen Dulles an OSS officer, later the director of the CIA.

Not all women who became involved in ‘intelligence’ during WWII took on the traditional spy role, but were to play an equally important part, that of code breaking, cryptanalysis, propaganda, research and development, entertainment and reporting.

Barbara Lauwers was a Corporal in the Women’s Army Corps and was stationed at the OSS Morale Ops (MO) headquarters in Rome, Italy. Her work involved using German prisoners for counterintelligence work. She partook in ‘cobbling’ fake passports and various other documents for spies and agents. Lauwers was instrumental in Operation Sauerkraut, leading a team in the writing and delivering of ‘black’ propaganda about Hitler, behind enemy lines. One particular mission was so successful that 600 troops defected behind Italian lines and withdrew their support for Germany. The success of this operation earned Lauwers the Bronze Star (US military decoration for bravery and merit). Lauwers also created the ‘League of Lonely War Women’ or VEK as it was known in German. It was a mythical organisation designed to demoralize German troops into thinking their sweethearts back home were having casual relationships with other soldiers, over 287,000 forged German Language field letters were produced in the period from mid July 1944, to the end of the war. Even the Washington Post had run a story claiming ‘all German soldiers on leave form the Italian front had to do was pin an entwined heart to their lapel to get a girlfriend’.

Julia Child was a chef by training, but had wanted to join the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) or the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), but was turned down for being too tall at 6’2″. She joined the OSS instead and was assigned to the headquarters in Washington, DC in research and development. One of the projects that she worked on was an effective shark repellent to stop them exploding ordinance targeting German U-boats (later to be used by US space mission water landings). In 1944 Child was posted to OSS facilities in Kandy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where she handled countless top secret documents, later on being posted to China where she received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service.

Marlene Dietrich was a German born actor, who had left Germany for Hollywood in the late 1920’s. She became an American citizen in 1939 and vehemently opposed Hitler, joining the USO (United Services Organisations). Dietrich became one of the first celebrities to raise war bonds and it was said she sold more war bonds than any other star. Dietrich chose to entertain French, British and US troops at the front line, she claimed ‘aus Anstand’ -‘out of decency’, often with little thought for her own safety. In 1944 the OSS initiated the ‘MUSAC’, project and Dietrich recorded a number of nostalgic songs such as Lili Marleen, which would be broadcast as a form of propaganda to battle weary German troops. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the US in 1947, and was awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French government for her wartime services.

Elizabeth McIntosh was an independent journalist and wartime correspondent who joined the OSS shortly after Pearl Harbour. She put her writing talents to use by intercepting and rewriting postcards from Japanese troops writing home, who were stationed in India. McIntosh was still in Burma when the Japanese government had changed hands and she came up with an idea for a new version of the Imperial Order. One that allowed soldiers to surrender under certain conditions, say that of having no food or water. These conditions would be honourably accepted by the Emperor, and the soldiers could then duly surrender themselves. The article was cleverly disseminated to Japanese troops, via a Japanese courier and the Kachins (tribal people of Burma).

Genevieve Feinstein had hoped to become a maths teacher, but after taking tests to become a professional government mathematician, she was offered a job with the SIS, the Signal Intelligence Service. Working as a cryptanalyst Feinstein was involved in the decryption and reading of Japanese diplomatic messages. In 1940 she made a discovery that enabled the SIS to build an analog machine that decrypted Japanese diplomatic messages known as ‘Purple’. Feinstein’s research work continued on a number of cipher machines and after the war working on the Russian ‘Verona Project’.

Mary Louise Prather was chief of the Stenographic Section of the SIS. She was responsible for the logging of cipher messages, and also prepared the offices decrypted messages for distribution. Prather is acknowledged as discovering an important relationship between two Japanese messages; this discovery enabled the decryption of new Japanese code.

Juliana Mickwitz had fled Poland after the German invasion in 1939. She worked for the US War Department’s Military Intelligence Directorate as a translator of Polish, Russian and German documents. She was hired later on by the Army Security Agency to translate plaintext voice.

Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood screen goddess, but behind the façade she also worked as an inventor at the US Intelligence Division. She helped to produce an anti-jamming device that was used in radio-controlled torpedoes. Lamarr also brilliant devised a method of radio ‘frequency hopping’ which prevented enemy spies from intercepting US military messages.

Josephine Baker was an American-born French dancer and singer, known as the ‘Creole Goddess’. She became the first African American female to star in a major motion picture, which would lead her on to become a world-famous entertainer. Baker was to join the French Resistance during WWII and serve as a spy; smuggling military secrets into Portugal from France that she had hidden in invisible ink on her sheet music. Baker also became the first American-born woman to receive the French Croix de Guerre (Cross of war).

Nancy Grace Augusta Wake grew up in Australia, working first as a nurse and then as a journalist. By the start of WWII she was living in France with her husband and quickly became a courier for the French resistance, later joining the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. She was known to the Gestapo as the ‘White Mouse’. Her life was in constant danger, with the Gestapo tapping her phone and intercepting her mail, and eventually she became the Gestapo’s most wanted person with a bounty of 5 million franc price on her head. By 1943 she had to flee, her husband was captured, tortured and executed by the Germans. Wake made it to England and joined the SOE; in 1944 she was parachuted back into France, where she became one of the leading figures in the Maquis groups. Wake participated in the training of highly effective Resistance troops. She even once rode a bicycle a 100 miles through German checkpoints to replace a lost code. Wake’s commitment to the Resistance was without fault and it is reputed that she killed a German soldier with her bare hands to help save others.


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