Patrick Scrivenor

Courage under Fire

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

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Scribe 428pp £22 order from our bookshop

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of WWII’s Most Dangerous Spy, Virginia Hall

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Virago 399pp £20 order from our bookshop

The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz

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W H Allen 505pp £20 order from our bookshop

Each of these books examines a single outstanding character involved in resistance to Nazi occupation. Lynne Olson’s and Sonia Purnell’s books deal with two women, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade and Virginia Hall, who led French resistance groups. Jack Fairweather’s The Volunteer chronicles the career of a Polish officer, Witold Pilecki, who not only volunteered to go into Auschwitz but later escaped from it.

The collapse of France in 1940 was so swift that the French found themselves occupied and partitioned before they could begin to grasp what had happened. In the unoccupied zone, many, possibly a majority at first, supported the armistice signed by Pétain and collaborated with their conquerors. Others, both there and in the rest of France, sought to resist. However, with no organising structure, their efforts were fragmented (this remained characteristic of the resistance). It is noticeable that Hall does not appear in Olson’s book, or Fourcade in Purnell’s. Other stalwarts of the resistance, such as Odette Hallowes, Tom Carew, Violette Szabo and Lilian Rolfe, are also absent from these books. This is not because the authors have not spread their nets widely enough, but simply because the activities of the various resistance groups did not necessarily impinge upon each other.

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