Any written material about the Second World War, whether fiction or not, never fails to intrigue me. In the previous 12 months alone, I’ve read 4 books about the subject, each being interesting, educational, and gripping!
Born to a fairly well-to-do family in rural Maryland, Virginia Hall was established as a “Tom-boy” by an early age. It was evident in her youth that she didn’t share the same values as the typical young girl. As she grew into adulthood, she viewed prohibition as a suppression of freedom, motivating her to travel abroad to France, which she fell in love with. It was this love that influenced her activities during the upcoming war, making her an unsung hero.
An avid outdoorsman (or woman), Virginia loved hunting, fishing, and nurturing animals. After finishing her studies in Europe, she took a job in the Consular Services as a clerk which allowed her to remain abroad and travel about the continent. A hunting excursion into Turkey in 1932, turned tragic when she injured her foot in a hunting accident, resulting in the loss of her leg. She wore a prosthetic leg, which she named “Cuthbert”, for most of the remainder of her life, hence, the sobriquet “the limping lady.”
At the onset of World War II, Virginia became an ambulance driver in France until it fell to the Nazis in 1940. Traveling to Spain, she met a man who was impressed with her knowledge of Europe and its languages and referred her to his contact in England’s new Special Operations Executive, resulting in a new career path for her in the intelligence community.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that without this one “asset” to the Allies, the Second World War may very well have turned out completely opposite of the way it did.
Even with all of her achievements during the war in Europe, she never changed her demeanor of being non-inclusive, and even a recluse, and never acknowledged her own awards and appraisals.
Her many aliases included “Marie Monin”, “Diane”, “Diana”, and “Camille”. Her allied comrades referred to her with sobriquets like “Madonna of the Mountains”, while the Nazi code name for who they considered “the most dangerous of all Allied spies” was “Artemis.”
Whatever happened to that toughness that defined the “Greatest Generation?”
I would highly recommend this work by Sonia Purcell, even to those who aren’t necessarily history buffs, as it was my favorite read of 2019.