November 11 1943 is, I understand, a well-remembered day for historians of the Resistance in Nazi-Occupied France.
It was on that day that the Maquis paraded through the town of Oyonnax in an event designed as a show of strength, a morale boost for the local population. The town was chosen because there was no German garrison nearby.
More than 200 Maquisards took part. They marched, sang the Marseillaise, and then disappeared back into the mountains. The event is described in Matthew Cobb’s excellent book The Resistance.
Sometime ago I came into possession of this small medallion. It features the date ‘XI Novembre, 1943’.
One side is the Cross of Lorraine smashing a Swastika.
On the other side is an Astrix-like warrior.
I would love to know the story behind it. I assume it relates to Oyonnax, but does it?
Les Spence was a remarkable man who kept an astonishing journal.
For almost four years he risked his life to keep a daily record of hardship, courage and endurance in prison camps run by the Japanese.
He and his fellow prisoners faced starvation, disease and cruelty. They kept up their spirits by playing sport, listening to an illicit radio and by trying to create their own civilised society behind barbed wire.
Throughout the suffering in Java, a perilous journey in the hold of an infamous hellship and the horrors of a forced labour camp in Japan, Les Spence kept writing.
He spent much of his time in a coal mining camp near Nagasaki. There, he was able to record one of the most momentous events in history: the dropping of the plutonium bomb on the city.
We had uneventful train journey to Nagasaki and then we saw the result of the atomic bomb. It was simply astounding, nothing left standing for miles, everything flat and burnt out.
Covering the period from January 1942 to November 1945, the diaries have been annotated to create a record of the Allied forces who many feel were sacrificed on Java.
Les Spence’s work is a first-hand account of how to hold onto hope when all seems lost.
WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:
“Moving and magnificent in its reportage, this is a war story with a difference. The very gut-wrenching rawness of Les Spence’s diary is a reminder of an area of World War Two almost forgotten: the battle for Java and the sacrifice that followed. This is one of those books that once you start you can’t forget it. These secret diaries have been lovingly edited to provide a firsthand account of the rigours of being a prisoner of a cruel enemy is superbly evoked.”
Gordon Thomas, author of ‘Voyage of the Damned’, ‘Inside British Intelligence’ and ‘Gideon’s Spies’
“A remarkable testament to courage and endurance in the face of hardship and cruelty – and a firsthand account of how to hold on to hope when all seems lost.”
“A remarkable wartime document.”
South Wales Echo
“These remarkable diaries cover the period from January 1942 to November 1945, and are a testament to one POW’s moving story.”
Britain at War magazine, September 2012
From Amazon: “My grandfather was in the same camp as Les Spence (Camp 8B @ Inatsuki). He told me stories about his time in camp, but [this] book has provided additional insight into the fear, hope, and dreams of these prisoners. Its value lies in the fact that it is a first hand account (actual diary that was retained by Les Spence throughout his imprisonment) of the day-by-day blows experienced by this POW.”
Lovely new review for Shadow Warriors of World War II from Mid West Book Review:
“The result of an extraordinary and comprehensive research, “Shadow Warriors of World War II: The Daring Women of the OSS and SOE” is impressively informed and informative. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, Shadow Warriors of World War II is strongly and unreservedly recommended as a critically important contribution to community, college, and university library World War II Military History collections and supplemental studies reading lists.”
Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE
A group biography of the fearless young women who became secret agents during World War II.
Award-winning journalists Thomas (Operation Exodus: From the Nazi Death Camps to the Promised Land: A Perilous Journey That Shaped Israel’s Fate, 2010, etc.) and Lewis (A Bullet Saved My Life: The Remarkable Adventures of Bob Peters, 2006, etc.) bring their talent for telling detail and brisk pacing to an engrossing history of women who worked for the United States and Britain as spies, cryptographers, analysts, couriers, and resistance fighters during World War II.
Drawing from official records, memoirs, diaries, and letters, the authors detail the recruitment, training, and daring escapades of women who infiltrated enemy lines and carried out sabotage operations, ranging from stealing documents to blowing up railroad tracks. Risking their lives repeatedly, the women proved themselves ingenious and fearless.
They were also, as the authors portray them, uncommonly attractive: slim, vivacious, charming, intelligent, quick-witted, and multilingual. Among them was the irresistible Betty Pack, who took countless lovers and became known as “the spy who slept her way to obtain information”; and Evangeline Bell, “intelligent, beautiful, mysterious, and ethereal,” who had the “demanding responsibility of ensuring there were no inconsistencies in the forged documents” and articles of clothing given to French agents. Any detail could result in arrest. French clothing, for example, was sewn “with parallel threading” rather than cross-stitches, a detail for which Bell had to be alert. Spies were taught how to pick locks, reassemble documents from scraps in trash baskets, live off the land, manage a safe landing in a parachute, make a cast of a key in a bar of soap, and canvass surroundings using a shop window’s reflection.
Some training centers taught forgery, microphotography, and safecracking. Not all agents were successful: some were arrested, executed, or died in concentration camps, never seeing the victory for which they worked. The authors make a strong case for the importance of these women to the course of war, offering a fresh perspective on military history.
World War Two was the war in which old gender rules changed, as intelligence agencies created specific training and roles for women.
SHADOW WARRIORS is the story of women as undercover combatants: armed with Sten guns and grenades; cutting telecommunication wires, laying mines in roadways; organizing bombing raids; preparing the way for the D-Day invasion and harassing enemy forces as the Allies moved inland.
It begins by telling the story of how US and British intelligence agencies decided to use women as spies in a way they never had before; and of how they then recruited and trained them, as couriers, wireless operators, saboteurs and even resistance leaders.
These agents ranged from girls barely out of high school to mature mothers, from working class women to the daughters of aristocrats, from the prim and proper to wild high-livers.
They were taught how to send coded messages; how to lay explosive charges; and how to kill with knives, guns and their bare hands.
Sometimes they faced sexism and even derision from their trainers. Yolande Beekman, an efficient and courageous agent who was executed by the Germans, had been dismissed by one SOE instructor as, “A nice girl, darned the men’s socks, would make an excellent wife for an unimaginative man, but not much more than that.”
Their actions behind enemy lines were to change for ever the views of the US and UK intelligence communities on using women as agents.
Some, such as New Zealander Nancy Wake and Polish-born Christine Granville led men in battle. Granville masterminded the escape of a fellow SOE agent. Nancy led a gun and grenade attack on a Gestapo headquarters in France. American Virginia Hall became the Gestapo’s most wanted agent.
Others, such as the American Betty Pack, used their beauty and sexual allure to capture enemy secrets which would change the course of the war.
All these agents knew that torture and death were the price of failure. Some had to leave babies and children at home. Many paid the ultimate price for their bravery.
As Nancy Wake said: “I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don’t see why we women should just wave a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”
The clandestine war, and therefore the war itself, would not have been won without the courage and contribution of these Shadow Warriors.
UK edition now available; US edition to be published by Chicago Review Press in January 2017.