Many thanks to Angus Wallace of WW2 Podcast
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.
A welcome addition to WWII literature.
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.
Canadian airman Bill Robertson’s return to the crash site in Hasselt made national news in Belgium.
See the full clip here: Bill Robertson
A Pembrokeshire airman, who was shot down over Belgium during World War 2, has enjoyed an emotional reunion with a former member of his crew.
Pilot John Evans, who was born in Goodwick, was visited by his former bomb aimer, Bill Robertson, who travelled from Canada for the meeting.
The two men are the last of the crew of a Halifax bomber which was set alight by a German night-fighter on the night of May 12/13, 1944.
They had been taking part on a raid on the railway marshalling yards at Hasselt.
The whole crew parachuted to safety. Both John and Bill were able to make contact with the local resistance.
“We were kept together for a while, then taken to separate safe houses and did not know anything about each other until after the war,” said John, who is now 95.
Many of the people who helped John and Bill were later arrested by the Gestapo. Both met up with those who survived after the war.
“The people who helped us took the most tremendous risks,” said Bill, 93. “For themselves and for their families.”
Both men were hidden until September 1944 when they were liberated by the advancing American forces.
On saying goodbye to John, Bill said: “This may be the last time we see each other. But, who knows, we didn’t think we would have this meeting.”
The men met in Calverton, near Nottingham, where John now lives near his daughter, Judy.
He still has a number of relatives in Pembrokeshire, including his brother-in-law Tom Morris, a retired police sergeant from Cardigan Road, Haverfordwest, and his niece Georgina Youngs, of Fishguard.
On his trip to Europe, Bill also met John’s brother, Doug, who lives in Surrey and was himself a bomber pilot during World War 2.
Bill then travelled to Hasselt where local historians have laid a memorial stone where the men’s Halifax bomber crashed.
* The book ‘Airman Missing’ which told John’s story is currently out of print but is planned for it to be released as an e-book later this year.
Just found a wonderful memory of Cardiff’s historic win at the Twickenham Sevens in the spring of 1939 in an article from Wales Online.
The team featured Les Spence and Wilf Wooller who three years later would be captured by the Japanese in Java.
Les kept a secret diary (of which a lot more here: https://greglewisinfo.wordpress.com/tag/from-java-to-nagasaki/) in the camp and on April 25, 1942 he wrote:
“No working party today. Very hot. Played chess and bridge most of the day. Passed a very pleasant hour with Wilf reminiscing on our past exploits. Three years ago today we were playing 7s at Twickenham.” (‘From Java To Nagasaki’, Magic Rat Books)
In the Wales Online article from 2011, 91-year-old Graham Hale recalled how Cardiff were the only Welsh-based club to lift the trophy.
“Only our captain, Wilf Wooller, had ever played in Sevens before as it was not played in Wales and it appears he was in the Sale side that had won in 1936,” said Graham. “I was a centre then and with Wilf at outside-half, we had Gwyn Porter outside me and Willie Davies, the brother of the Wales prop Cliff, playing scrum-half, though he was really an outside-half.
“Willie was a splendid player but turned professional soon afterwards. In the forwards were Selby Davies, Evan Jones and Les Spence, while Wilf dropped the Wales forward ‘Wendy’ Davis, as Wilf said he was too slow.
“Selby, ‘Wendy’ and I had all been at Cardiff High School.
“We had a small practice and the next day (April 22, 1939) we caught the train to Twickenham.
“We had never seen a Sevens match and watched the first one from the grandstand, the ground was full.
“We opened against the good St Mary’s Hospital side and the referee said we had two minutes left and we were losing 6-0.
“We ran down field and I was clear, but for some reason I stopped and dropped a goal.
“It was four points then and a try was three.
“It was the only drop goal I ever attempted!
“From the kick-off we got the ball and when I received it, I was again clear and scored to make it 7-6. I don’t think we attempted the conversion.”
Cardiff then beat the Met Police 5-3 and Birkenhead Park 8-5 in the semi-final.
The BBC broadcast had broken down and those in the Cardiff club were resigned to the team losing.
However, Cardiff met London Scottish in the final.
“Wilf was always loud off the pitch, but quiet on it,” added Mr Hale.
“He sat with me watching the Scotland fly-half Logie Bruce Lockhart run rings round their opponents.
“He said that if I got Lockhart low, he would take him and the ball high.
“We did and won 11-6.
“We caught the train home with Wilf running down the platform as it was going.
“We got in the club that night and nobody knew we had won the splendid Kinross Arber Trophy.
“It was a great day to remember.”
Like Les and Wilf, Graham joined the army during the war and became a POW in North Africa.
A D-Day Commando, filter room girl and RAF evader feature in ‘Welsh Heroes of World War 2’ which is now available to watch on-line.
The three programmes take Ted Owens, Eileen Younghusband and John Evans on emotional trips down memory lane to revisit their WW2 experiences.
The series ends with RAF evader John Evans, who spent four months on the run in Occupied Belgium, paying tribute to the Resistance heroes who helped him.
And, in an historic moment, he meets up with one of the Luftwaffe aces whose job it was to shot RAF bombers down.
UPDATE: Received a message from Dr Rolf Ebhardt, the Luftwaffe nightfighter ace, who features in ‘Welsh Heroes of World War 2: Airman on the Run’. Rolf came to the UK to meet the programme’s main character, John Evans.
Have viewed the film, Rolf says: “I was impressed about the marvellous outcome of the interview. So the two old men are still “going strong” (at least more or less!).
I am glad I could represent the former enemy in a dignified manner to your countrymen,which in turn helps for good relations between our two nations, to come together also in future in friendship.”
I filmed a long interview with Rolf, which has never been shown anywhere: this was his first TV appearance. We are now working on plans for another documentary.