Interesting

Violette Szabo

Violette Szabo

Violette Bushell, the daughter of an English father and a French mother, was born in France on 26th June, 1921. She spent her early childhood in Paris where her father drove a taxi. Later the family moved to London and she was educated at a Brixton Secondary School. At the age of fourteen Violette left school and became a hairdresser's assistant. Later she found work as a sales assistant at Woolworths in Oxford Street.

During the Second World War Violette met Etienne Szabo, an officer in the Free French Army. The couple decided to get married (21st August 1940) when they discovered that Etienne was about to be sent to fight in North Africa.

Soon after giving birth to a daughter, Tania Szabo, Violette heard that her husband had been killed at El Alamein. She now developed a strong desire to get involved in the war effort and eventually joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE). She told a fellow recruit: "My husband has been killed by the Germans and I'm going to get my own back."

At first SOE officers had doubts about whether Violette should be sent to France. One officer wrote: "She speaks French with an English accent. Has no initiative; is completely lost when on her own. Another officer argued: "This student is temperamentally unsuitable... When operating in the field she might endanger the lives of others."

Colonel Maurice Buckmaster, head of SOE's French operations, overruled these objections and after completing her training Violette was parachuted into France where she had the task of obtaining information about the resistance possibilities in the Rouen area. Despite being arrested by the French police she completed her mission successfully and after being in occupied territory for six weeks she returned to England.

Violette returned to France in June 1944 but while with Jacques Dufour, a member of the French Resistance, was ambushed by a German patrol. By providing covering fire Szabo enabled Dufour to escape. Szabo was captured and taken to Limoges and then to Paris. After being tortured by the Gestapo she was sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany.

Some time in the spring of 1945, with Allied troops closing in on Nazi Germany, Violette Szabo was executed. She was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre and the George Cross. Her story is told in the book and film entitled Carve Her Name With Pride.

I was responsible for recruiting women for the work, in the face of a good deal of opposition, I may say, from the powers that be. In my view, women were very much better than men for the work. Women, as you must know, have a far greater capacity for cool and lonely courage than men. Men usually want a mate with them. Men don't work alone, their lives tend to be always in company with other men. There was opposition from most quarters until it went up to Churchill, whom I had met before the war. He growled at me, "What are you doing?" I told him and he said, "I see you are using women to do this," and I said, "Yes, don't you think it is a very sensible thing to do?" and he said, "Yes, good luck to you'" That was my authority!

Apart from her excellent French her most evident qualification for service in SOE was an exceptional talent for shooting, which caused her to be banned from some of London's West End galleries because she won too many prizes. Nevertheless Selwyn Jepson, to whom she had been recommended, thought she might be a suitable recruit. His principle doubt arose from the readiness with which she volunteered for service. He wondered for a time whether she might belong to a category which he had learnt, with reason, to distrust, that of agents with a suicidal urge.

I seriously wonder whether this student is suitable. She speaks French with an English accent. Has no initiative; is completely lost when on her own.

Violette got up rather nervously as I went into the room. She was really beautiful, dark-haired and olive-skinned, with that kind of porcelain clarity of face and purity of bone that one finds occasionally in the women of the south-west of France.

"When you land, you will be received by a group organized by Clement. I showed her on the large-scale Michelin map the exact area where the drop was to rake place. She carefully memorized the geographical features of the area, tracing the path she would follow through the wood to the side-road which led to the farm cottages where she would spend the rest of the night and the whole of the next day.

We heard the rumble of armoured cars and machine-guns began spraying close to us they could follow our progress by the movement of the wheat. When we weren't more than yards from the edge of the wood Szabo, who had her clothes ripped to ribbons and was bleeding from numerous cuts all over her legs, told me she was unable to go one inch further. She insisted she wanted me to try to get away, that there was no point in my staying with her. So I went on and managed to hide under a haystack.

I was caught by the Germans for sabotage in Guernsey and imprisoned there at first and then in many other prisons in France and Germany before being sent to Ravensbriick. I spoke several European languages and the staff of the prisons made use of me as an interpreter. At Ravensbriick, I was made a prison policewoman and given the number 39785 and a red armband that indicated my status.

I was handed a heavy leather belt with instructions to beat the women prisoners. It was a hateful task, but in it I saw my only chance to help some of the condemned women.

It was into this camp that three British parachutists were brought. One was Violette Szabo. They were in rags, their faces black with dirt, and their hair matted. They were starving. They had been tortured in attempts to wrest from them secrets of the invasion but I am certain they gave nothing away.

The life that I have is all that I have

And the life that I have is yours

The love that I have of the life that I have

Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have

And death will be but a pause

For the years I shall have in the long green grass

Are yours and yours and yours.

Violette Szabo was continuously and atrociously tortured, but never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances or told the enemy anything of any value.


Szabo was born in Paris in 1921, then moved to London, age 11, to join the rest of her family. A very active and tomboyish girl, Szabo was known as a good shot and was very popular in her circle. She began work at a department store after school then World War II broke out.

Initially, Szabo joined the Women’s Land Army, where the work was rather dull. She also worked as a strawberry picker for the war effort, as well as in a factory. She married a French soldier, who went to fight in the Free French attack on Senegal, in South Africa and the Middle East.

Szabo continued to work, becoming a switchboard operator for the London Post Office, where she remained through the Blitz. However, she became bored and enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. She underwent training, before finding out she was pregnant, forcing her to leave her work.

Putting her child under the watchful eye of trusted carers, she went back to work at an aircraft factory. Then Szabo was informed of her husband’s death in action. It prompted her to volunteer as a field agent for the British Special Ops, spurred on by a desire to fight the enemy that had killed him.

Violette Szabo, taken sometime before 1944


23-year-old “tomboy” Violette Szabo faced down the SS to save her friends

In February 1945, a supremely courageous Franco-British lady was executed by the Nazis with a single shot to the back of the head. She was aged just 23. This martyr to freedom was one of the bravest women in our history and one of the most decorated, only the second female recipient of the George Cross for bravery, and also the Croix de Guerre and La Medaille de la Resistance. She was a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and her name was Violette Szabo.

Violette was born in the Parisian suburbs in June 1921, to an English father and French mother. She would always be imbued with a sense of belonging to both nationalities. Her early childhood was spent with an aunt in Picardy, when her parents moved to England, Violette joining them in Stockwell, South London, aged eleven. One’s impression of the teenage Violette is of a ‘tom-boy’, competing for elbow-room with four brothers, someone headstrong, but also talented and fluently bilingual.

A retail worker, the onset of war saw Violette joining the ‘land-girls’ then working in an armaments factory, when she met and married Etienne Szabo, twelve years her senior, a French Legionnaire, killed at the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. Etienne was another courageous individual, recipient of the Croix de Guerre and Legion d’honneur here was the most decorated married couple of WW2. Violette was now without her beloved husband, however, and this loss appears to have driven her determination to strike back at the Germans in the most direct way possible.

Violette c. 1940

Violette joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the female equivalent of the British Army, then the SOE, for which she was tailor-made due to her linguistic ability. The SOE was not for the faint-hearted operating behind enemy lines, engaging in espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance, was fraught with danger, with capture invariably resulting in torture and execution. Strenuous training included weaponry, demolition and parachuting, her first attempt, however, resulting in a badly-sprained left ankle.

Violette’s first mission into occupied France in April 1944 was a success, parachuting in over Cherbourg, and travelling alone to Rouen to find out what had happened to a couple of SOE operatives the month before. She returned safely to England, confirming that over a hundred Resistance workers had been captured by the Gestapo, with this particular ‘circuit’ in tatters, plus providing valuable information about German war factories.

Her fateful second and final mission saw Violette and three colleagues parachuted into Limoges in early June 1944, just after D-Day, the intention being to build a new ‘circuit’ in this area and presumably to try and disrupt the German response to the landings. Violette was travelling by car to a rendezvous, unaware that the might of the 2 nd SS Panzer Division was heading directly for her.

The 2nd SS Panzer Division pictured in Poland at the start of World War II

Encountering a road block, the car attempted to turn around, but flight proved impossible for Violette, whose ankle, already weakened in that first parachute attempt, gave way, leading to her capture, just two days after D-Day. Szabo used up what ammunition she had providing covering fire for her escaping comrade, effectively laying down her life for that of a friend. She continued firing for close on half-an-hour before she ran out of ammo.

Anyone suspected of being a spy or member of the SOE was treated brutally and Violette was packed off to Paris for months of ‘interrogation’ (torture) by the SS. Her supreme stoicism stands as a shining exemplar of moral triumph over adversity and oppression.

The infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp was one of the places which awaited Violette. Solitary confinement and brutal assault followed before this gallant lady was finally escorted to her execution. In December 1946 Violette was awarded the George Cross, second only to the VC, as far as medals this nation can bestow.

Women at Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1945

Violette’s story was disseminated to a wider audience in 1958, with the feature film, Carve Her Name with Pride. Just last year the George Cross and other medals awarded to Violette were sold at auction for £260,000, a record price for a ‘George Cross group’, the medals destined for the Imperial War Museum. Violette’s daughter, Tania, who has worked tirelessly to foster her mother’s memory, was present at the auction, as was the actress who portrayed her, Virginia McKenna. It was Tania who had collected the medal from Buckingham Palace, aged just four, a touching scene depicted in the film.

The women of the SOE were among the ‘bravest of the brave’. Of 55 female agents, 12 were executed, with another 13 killed in action. Only three other women have been awarded the George Cross, all of them SOE members. One of them, Odette Sansom, described Violette Szabo as, “the bravest of us all.”

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Violette Szabo: Bravery of the heroine spy caught, tortured and shot by the Nazis

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Violet Szabo's daughter Tania shows her mother's George Cross

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This week the medals awarded to Violette Szabó will go on public display at the Imperial War Museum in London to honour the courage of the woman who fought with the French Resistance and, after being captured, was brutally tortured by the Nazis.

In July, in my role as a champion of bravery and a gallantry medal collector, I purchased Szabó&rsquos medal group at auction, paying a world-record price for a GC.

Today she remains one of only four women in history to receive a direct award of the medal that was created by George VI in 1940 to recognise outstanding bravery not in the face of the enemy.

By becoming the custodian of these treasured awards for Szabó&rsquos courage as an undercover Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent, I guaranteed that the medals would remain in Britain and that they would go on permanent public display for the first time.

Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell (Szabó was her married name) was born in Paris to an English father and French mother on June 26 1921.

Young, spirited, sporty and with four brothers, her family settled in Stockwell, south London, from 1932.

When war broke out she was still only 18 and had spent four years working as a shop assistant.

From early in the war, Bushell was determined to make her mark and she joined the Land Army.

On July 14 1940 and to mark Bastille Day, Bushell&rsquos mother urged her to go to the Cenotaph in central London and invite a French soldier home for a meal.

The man she asked home, Sergeant Major Etienne Szabó, a member of the French Foreign Legion, fell in love with her and less than six weeks later &ndash on August 21 1940 &ndash they were married in Aldershot, Hampshire.

He was 30 and she was 19. Soon, however, Szabó&rsquos husband had to go to fight in North Africa and they did not see each other for a year.

Violette Szabo fought with the French Resistance and was tortured by the Nazi's

After being briefly reunited in Liverpool in the summer of 1941, Etienne Szabó had to return to duty.

They never saw each other again: she was pregnant when he departed.

He was killed at El Alamein in October 1942, four months after the birth of their only child, Tania.

Late in 1942, the SOE, which had been set up in 1940 with the aims of sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines, became aware of the recently-widowed Violette Szabó.

In 1943, she was recruited to them and, despite the risks, she was desperate to return to France and gain revenge for her husband&rsquos death.

During the run-up to her first mission, Szabó, who spoke fluent French and was a good shot, met Leo Marks, the SOE code master: all agents were trained to code and decode messages.

Marks apparently gave Szabó as her code poem the verse that he had written after learning that his girlfriend had died in a plane crash in Canada.

It read: The life that I have is all that I have/And the life that I have is yours./The love that I have of the life that I have, is yours and yours and yours./ A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have,/Yet death will be but a pause,/For the peace of my years, in the long green grass,/ Will be yours and yours and yours.

Szabo's first assignment took place two months before D-Day

Her first mission took place two months before D-Day.

Having been given a false identity, she was dropped into France on April 5 on a high-risk operation to act as a courier for the French Resistance.

Szabó carried out her mission calmly and competently: it was so successful that after less than four weeks in France, she was returned to Britain to be reunited with her daughter and her parents.

Szabó&rsquos superiors soon had an even more dangerous mission for her.

So she made her will and said an emotional farewell to Tania at around the time of her daughter&rsquos second birthday.

Early on June 8 1944, shortly after the D-Day landings, Szabó was back on French soil.

Violette and her husband Etienne during the second World War

However, on June 10, she was in a car with two Resistance men near Salon-laTour when they hit a roadblock.

After a shoot-out, Szabó was wounded and later captured.

Despite her injuries, she was taken to the military prison in Limoges and tortured.

Eyewitnesses saw her limping across the courtyard to the Gestapo offices for her twice-daily interrogations.

The conditions in which Szabó was kept during her detention were appalling and her health suffered.

She was eventually transferred to Ravensbrück in Germany, a concentration camp for women.

Some time between January 25 and February 5 1945, three women &ndash Szabó and two other SOE prisoners &ndash were taken to the execution alley there, where their death sentences were read to them.

Five months short of her 24th birthday, Szabó was shot in the back of the head along with her companions.

WWII heroine s George Cross sold for 260,000 in London

Szabó&rsquos GC was announced on December 17 1946, the citation ending: &ldquoShe was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously and atrociously tortured but never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances or told the enemy anything of any value&hellip Madame Szabó gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness.&rdquo

On January 28 1947, Tania Szabó, by now five years old and wearing a dress her mother had purchased in Paris on her first mission to France, received her mother&rsquos GC from George VI in an investiture at Buckingham Palace.

In 1949, Szabó&rsquos parents, Charles and Reine Bushell, emigrated to Australia, taking Tania with them. S ZABÓ&rsquoS remarkable story was turned into a film, Carve Her Name with Pride, based on the book by RJ Minney and starring Virginia McKenna.

The 1958 film helped perpetuate the story of the &ldquoCode Poem&rdquo written by Leo Marks.

McKenna was among many who supported an appeal launched in 1998 to start a museum in Szabó&rsquos honour in the grounds of the home of one of the secret agent&rsquos aunts.

This eventually opened in Herefordshire on June 24 2000 &ndash the closest Saturday to what would have been Szabó&rsquos 79th birthday.

I purchased Szabó&rsquos medal group at a Dix Noonan Webb auction in London on July 22, paying £260,000 (plus a buyer&rsquos premium of £52,000), for the honour of becoming the custodian of the awards.

They were sold by Tania Szabó, who is now 73, to help secure her future and meet the cost of a fire at her home.

I was delighted with her public response once she learned that I was the purchaser: &ldquoI&rsquom very happy with the result. They&rsquore going into a safe place where people will be able to view them &ndash many thousands of people &ndash so a good result.&rdquo

I feel privileged to be the custodian of Szabó&rsquos medal group and I am delighted that it will go on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum from Wednesday.

As her daughter Tania has acclaimed, Szabó lived a life that was &ldquoshort but lived to the full, with much happiness, joy, some deep sadness and great endeavour&rdquo.

Related articles

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster.

His five books on gallantry include George Cross Heroes.

Lord Ashcroft&rsquos VC and GC collection is on public display at the Imperial War Museum, London.


Mujeres en la historia



Foto: Wikimedia Commons

El 17 de diciembre de 1947, una niña de cinco años recibía de manos del rey Jorge VI de Inglaterra una medalla en recuerdo de la valiosa labor que sus padres habían realizado durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Tania Szabo había quedado huérfana de padre cuando era un bebé de pocos meses y perdía a su madre con tan sólo tres años. A su padre no lo llegó a conocer, pues falleció en la guerra y su madre marchó a la Francia ocupada cuando era una niña muy pequeña. Ambos perdieron la vida al luchar por sus ideales. Violette fue detenida mientras colaboraba con la resistencia francesa por las SS y terminó sus días en el campo de concentración femenino de Ravensbrück.

Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell nació el 26 de junio de 1921 en París. Violette era la única chica de los cinco hijos de la familia Bushell. Su padre, Charles George Bushell era un taxista de origen inglés mientras que su madre era costurera originaria de la zona francesa del Somme. Los primeros años de vida, Violette vivió alejada de los suyos, pues a causa de los problemas económicos, sus padres tuvieron que emigrar a Londres. Ella y su hermano pequeño quedaron durante un tiempo a cargo de una tía que vivía en Picardía.

Cuando tenía once años, Violette viajó a Inglaterra donde se reencontró con sus padres y hermanos y empezó sus estudios en Brixton. Pocos años después, con catorce años, empezó a trabajar en distintas tiendas y talleres de moda para ayudar en la economía familiar.


Foto: metro.co.uk/2015/07/22/incredible-story-of-the-ww2-heroine-whose-medals-could-fetch-250000-at-auction-5307944/

Poco después del estallido de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, Violette se unió a la Women's Land Army, una organización que ya había funcionado durante la Gran Guerra y tenía por objetivo suplir a los hombres que habían marchado al frente en sus labores en el campo. Tras un tiempo recolectando fresas en Hampshire, regresó a Londres donde se puso a trabajar para una fábrica de armamento de Acton.

En 1940, Violette conoció a Étienne Szabo, un oficial de la Legión Extranjera del que se enamoró a primera vista. Tan sólo cuarenta y dos días duró el noviazgo. El 21 de agosto de 1940 se casaban en la Oficina de Registros de Aldershot, en Manor Park. Él tenía 31 y ella 19. Tras una breve luna de miel y unos meses de feliz convivencia como marido y mujer, las obligaciones bélicas llevaron a Étienne a viajar hasta el frente africano.

Convertida en la señora Szabo, Violette empezó a trabajar como telefonista en la General Post Office de Londres hasta que en septiembre de 1941 se alistó en el Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), la sección femenina del ejército británico que se había creado a principios de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Violette recibió un intenso entrenamiento que tuvo que abandonar cuando se dio cuenta que estaba embarazada.


Violette con su marido Étienne Szabo
Foto: ciekawostkihistoryczne.pl/2017/06/17/dobry-boze-ta-dziewczyna-ma-jaja-czy-to-ona-byla-najodwazniejsza-agentka-ii-wojny-swiatowej/

El 8 de junio de 1942 nacía su hija Tania Szabo, quien no llegaría a conocer a su padre. Étienne fallecía el 24 de octubre del mismo año en la batalla de El Alamein, en el Norte de África. Tras la muerte de su marido, Violette Szabo decidió no abandonar la lucha, quizás en memoria de su amado Étienne y con el objetivo de vengar su muerte, y se incorporó a la British Special Operations Executive (SOE). La SOE era una organización creada específicamente para espiar y boicotear los movimientos alemanes en la Europa ocupada.

Violette inició un intensivo entrenamiento. En su primer salto en paracaídas, en un aeródromo cerca de Manchester, se hizo daño en un tobillo y tuvo que permanecer un tiempo en reposo. Pero en cuanto pudo, volvió al entrenamiento para estar preparada cuanto antes para iniciar sus actividades en la Francia ocupada.

El 5 de abril de 1944 fue lanzada en paracaídas en una zona cercana a Cherburgo. En su primera operación utilizó el pseudónimo de Louise y se encargó de estudiar la línea alemana en el Atlántico. A pesar de que fue arrestada en varias ocasiones, fue liberada y continuó con su misión. Violette regresó sana y salva a Inglaterra donde permaneció durante muy poco tiempo. El 8 de junio de 1944 volvió a ser lanzada en paracaídas cerca de Limoges donde tenía que entrar en contacto con la resistencia francesa. En esta ocasión, Violette fue arrestada mientras viajaba en coche con un partisano.


Foto: http://biografias.wiki/violette-szabo/

Violette Szabo fue encarcelada y torturada por los alemanes para conseguir información. Cuando descubrieron que Violette formaba parte del SOE, fue trasladada a distintas prisiones dentro de Francia. Pero ante el avance imparable de las tropas norteamericanas que habían desembarcado en Normandía el 6 de junio, los alemanes decidieron trasladar a algunos prisioneros al corazón de Europa. Violette y otras mujeres que habían participado en acciones de la SOE y colaborado con la resistencia francesa terminaron en Ravensbrück, el devastador campo de concentración para mujeres.

Allí fue ejecutada Violette Szabo en una fecha cercana al 5 de febrero de 1945, junto a otras dos miembros del SOE, Denise Bloch y Lilian Rolfe. Tenía tan sólo 23 años.

Finalizada la guerra, Violette y su marido recibieron muchas condecoraciones como la Cruz de Guerra Francesa o la George Cross que recibió su propia hija de la mano del rey Jorge VI. Violette fue la segunda mujer en recibir esta conmemoración, después de Odette Sansom.

Tania Szabo mantuvo vida la memoria de sus padres. Tania escribió una de las biografías que se han publicado sobre Violette.


Violette Szabo - History

Born in Paris in 1922 to a British taxi fleet owner and French mother, Violette Bushell was raised in Britain and married at a young age, but lost her husband when he was killed fighting against the Germans, leavings behind a young daughter.

Violette, a skilled shot with a rifle who could speak French fluently, was recruited into the SOE by Selwyn Jepson. A Raven-haired beauty, Szabo was considered a great candidate to work with the French underground. Her superiors, however, were greatly concerned with her urgent desire to put herself in danger, possibly a psychological reaction to her husband’s death. They worried that she risked her life with a suicidal passion but they assigned her nonetheless.

Szabo flew through her training with merit and was placed with a former Havas news correspondent named Phillippe Liewer. She was dropped by parachute into France and was assigned to determine how many resistance forces were in place. She established communications between underground leaders and British intelligence forces. Making back to England, she was arrested twice by French gendarmes but was able to talk her way out of trouble and made her was to safety.

Upon reaching England, Szabo immediately sought another assignment, and although reluctant, her handlers sent her back into France. She passed along vital information to the French underground but was interrupted in one meeting when a German patrol discovered their meeting in a farmhouse. As one of the French resistance leaders fled, Szabo provided cover for him, shooting several German soldiers with a Sten gun. Eventually her gun ran out and she was taken into custody.

Violette was taken to the Gestapo headquarters where she was raped repeated and tortured. Despite the cruelty she refused to provide any information and was subsequently sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Upon reaching the camp she was subjected to more brutal torture but again refused to talk to her captors, thus establishing her reputation for courage and bravery. After growing frustrated with her refusals, the Gestapo executed Violette in April 1945. In January 1947, she was posthumously awarded the George Cross by the British government acknowledging her valor.


Violette Szabo (1921-1945)

The greatness of a person is a very subjective notion. A great person is usually connected to doing good, making a difference, being courageous, and leaving a legacy that commends as much. Member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War, Violette Reine Elizabeth Szabo née Bushell, has managed exactly this, with her daughter Tania receiving her deceased mother’s George Cross on her behalf, and stating that without Violette, ‘the world’s treasury of courage would have been immeasurably less’.[1] Unfortunately, Violette’s story has been absorbed into the history of the SOE and the Second World War and her individuality lost. This biography of her life aims to change that by focusing solely on Violette, bringing her into the foreground as she deserves.

Violette began her life on 29 th January 1921 in Paris, she was her French mother’s and English father’s second child, they would go on to have three more but she would be their only daughter.[2] As a result of her Parisian birth and childhood, Violette spoke French for much of her early life, and remained fluent in the language. The Bushell family moved to Brixton in England when Violette was 11, once there she enrolled at a London County Council school and studied there for three years.[3] During her youth Violette ‘excelled at athletics, gymnastics, cycling’, and was proven to be an excellent shot when her father taught her how to shoot a gun.[4] These particular abilities suggest that having four brothers affected her interests greatly.

By 1940, at the age of 21, Violette had settled into a job at an armaments factory in London after having a range of jobs including working for a French corsetiere, and picking strawberries in the countryside as part of the land army.[5] It was in the July of 1940 that Violette’s French mother insisted she find a Frenchman to invite to celebrate Bastille Day with the Bushell household. Violette has been described as ‘strikingly good-looking, with dark hair and eyes and vivacious manners’, an attractive appearance that could explain, at least partly, why the French solider Violette took home for Bastille Day, Ètienne Michel René Szabo, became her husband not long after.[6] The film based upon the biography of Violette written by R.J. Minney, ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’, depicts Violette’s father’s resistance to the marriage. He is shown to be worried that the two had only known each other a matter of days, that Ètienne was ten years her senior, and he was a soldier about to be deployed.[7]

Sadly, Ètienne was killed in action before being able to return to England and consequently never got to meet his and Violette’s daughter Tania, who was born on 8 th June 1942.[8] Ètienne’s death occurred in North Africa in October 1942. After fulfilling his duty to the French army in Senegal, South Africa, and Syria, he was killed in North Africa ‘during an act of extreme bravery’ that occurred as he was leading his men, from the front, in the Second Battle at El Alamein.[9] His time in the French army and the actions he undertook as a soldier earned Ètienne many honours. These honours include the Legion D’honneur, the Medaille Militaire, and the Croix de Guerre, he will not have thought that his wife would also be awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1947.[10] The efforts of the Szabo couple being, justifiably, so recognised with honours and medals has led to them to being the ‘most decorated married couple of World War II’.[11]

Multiple sources acknowledge her husband’s death as one of the motivations behind Violette accepting the invitation to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE) that was extended to her in 1943.[12] This motivation was not the one that worried Selwyn Jepson, the SOE agent to whom she was recommended. He worried that her eagerness to join the service was linked to a desire to commit suicide, something that he had been been given reason to distrust in his agents.[13] However, he was proven wrong, and the abilities Violette displayed during her training sessions proved her an agent of quality during her training sessions.[14] As was usual for those who worked for the SOE, Violette was strictly prohibited from revealing her role and missions to anyone, including her family members[15]. However, her father discovered what she did after one of her training sessions when he found her badge that she had received for completing her parachute course, under their couch.[16] He respected the secrecy with which such a role had to be kept under by only revealing what he had found out to Violette and his wife, her mother.

The operations of the SOE and the identities of its personnel were not only kept secret from civilians, but ‘the fact that the body existed at all was for long a closely guarded secret’ amongst those directly related to it, meaning that there were even some in the war office and Parliament that had no idea it existed.[17] It was developed under the insistence of some, including the man who became its head, Lord Dalton, who said that Britain had ‘to organise movements in enemy-occupied territory comparable to the Sinn Fein movement in Ireland’.[18] Prime Minister Churchill stated that the aims of the organisation were ‘to create and foster the spirit of resistance in nazi-occupied territory’, and then ‘once a suitable climate of opinion had been set up, SOE was to establish a nucleus of trained men’ to aid the liberation of the necessary country.[19] The country that Violette Szabo was sent to was France, as part of F section, namely because she was a fluent French speaker.[20] She travelled there under the guise of being a member of the Women’s Transport Service, as part of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. This was the case for most females who worked as part of the SOE.[21]

Violette left her young daughter Tania with her parents a decision that both the book and film versions of ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’ show was a very difficult one for her to make, and a hard one for her parents to accept, though they did so as they recognised her work as necessary. Having done this, she was parachuted into France in April 1944 as the courier of experienced agent Philippe Liewer.[22] They were investigating what had happened to colleagues of Liewer that he connected with on previous missions. Once in Rouen, they found that the group had been infiltrated and many had been arrested. She completed her task of discovering what had happened to the group, despite the area being swamped with inquisitive Germans and being followed and arrested by French police.[23] After three weeks reconnaissance, she and Liewer returned to England. She bore many gifts for her family as shopping was part of her guise for being in France, she also had to make up for being away and thank them for taking care of her daughter.[24]

The day after D-Day, a shortage of agents deemed suitable took Violette back to France, again as part of the SALESMAN circuit, though this time in a more paramilitary role.[25] She took with her a coded poem that Leo Marks had created entitled ‘The Life That I Have’, and she was later interrogated for it. While working to protect some of her French counterparts that she and Liewer had connected with, Violette was taken prisoner by the German soldiers she had been sharing gunfire with.[26] She was initially taken to a French prison where ‘brutal interrogations got nothing out of her but contempt’.[27] Violette was then placed on a train with other captives including other SOE agents. One of these agents, Yeo-Thomas, recorded how Violette ‘distinguished’ herself by passing out water to others in her carriage while the train was attacked with RAF gunfire.[28]

The camp Violette was taken to, Ravensbrück was the first all-female concentration camp in Germany, and was situated 50 miles north of Berlin. Throughout the camp’s existence, its population, in total, was 132,000 women and children with 92,000 of them dying there.[29] Violette Szabo is part of that statistic.

Due to ‘some infraction’, Violette, along with SOE agents Denise Bloch and Lilian Rolfe, were sent to a working camp.[30] As they found the work there endurable, they asked to go to a second, according to official historian of the SOE Michael Foot, this time was ‘much fiercer’ with only Violette’s ‘irrepressible cheerfulness and stamina’ keeping them going once they returned to Ravensbrück.[31] A survivor of the camp fondly remembered Violette as being ‘outstanding even among the thousands of women in the camp’.[32] Sadly, not long after the three women returned to Ravensbrück an order came from Berlin for them to be shot.[33] Of the fourteen female SOE agents sent into France during the Second World War, ‘three went in twice thirteen never came back’.[34]

For her work in France, Violette, along with two other F section agents, received the George Cross, hers and another’s were awarded posthumously.[35] Of the 410 George Cross awarded, only ten have been to females, placing Violette in a very elite group of significantly brave women. The specifics of the poor treatment she received have never been revealed in full accurate detail, and it would be unfair to assume what she went through based on the experiences of others. However, recognising that Violette was interrogated by police, spent time at two work camps and in a concentration camp, her suffering is acknowledged on the back of her award.[36] As mentioned before, she was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre for her bravery and effective work during occupied times.

In keeping with Violette leaving everything to her daughter, both awards were presented to a very young Tania on her mother’s behalf.[37] However, in 2015, Tania decided that as she had no children she would sell her mother’s awards to secure their protection, and Tania’s own future financial security.[38] The medals set a price record for a George Cross, and were bought on behalf of Lord Ashcroft to be displayed in the Imperial War Museum.[39] This is not the only museum to hold artefacts related to Violette. In 2000, her uncle opened his home in Wormelow as a museum dedicated to her there is also a commemorative blue plaque placed at her English home.[40]

[1] Szabo, T. (2015). Young, Brave and Beautiful. New York: The History Press.

[2] Foot, M. (n.d.). Violette Szabo. [online] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Available at: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/38046?docPos=1 [Accessed 31 Jan. 2016].

[3] Howarth, P. (1980). Undercover, the Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, p. 156-157.

[4] Museum, V.S. (2015). About Violette Szabo: A Real Life Heroine | Violette Szabo Museum. [online] Violette-szabo-museum.co.uk. Available at: http://www.violette-szabo-museum.co.uk/violette.html [Accessed 4 May 2016].

[6] Foot, M. (n.d.). Violette Szabo. [online].

[7] Carve Her Name With Pride. (1958). [DVD] London, England: MGM Studios.

[8] Museum, V.S. (2015). About Violette Szabo: A Real Life Heroine. [online].

[12] Foot, M. (n.d.). Violette Szabo. [online]. Carve Her Name With Pride. (1958). [DVD] London, England: MGM Studios. Museum, V.S. (2015). About Violette Szabo: A Real Life Heroine. [online].

[13] Howarth, P. (1980). Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive., p. 157.

[15] Foot, M. (1966). SOE in France. An Account of the Work of British Special Operations Executive in France 1940-1944.. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, p. 42.

[16] Szabo, T. (2015). Young, Brave and Beautiful.

[17] Foot, M. (1966). SOE in France, p. 11.

[20] Howarth, P. (1980). Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive., p. 120.

[21]Foot, M. (1966). SOE in France, p. 11.

[23] Ibid., p. 382. Howarth, P. (1980). Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive., p. 156.

[24] Carve Her Name With Pride. (1958). [DVD].

[25] Howarth, P. (1980). Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive., p. 156.

[27] Foot, M. (n.d.). Violette Szabo. [online].

[28] Howarth, P. (1980). Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive., p. 156. Foot, M. (1966). SOE in France, p. 426.

[29] Baumel-Schwartz, J. (1998). Double Jeopardy. Gender and the Holocaust. London, England: Vallentine Mitchell., p. 5.

[30] Foot, M. (n.d.). Violette Szabo. [online].

[31] Foot, M. (1966). SOE in France, p. 430.

[32] Howarth, P. (1980). Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive., p. 156.

[33] Foot, M. (1966). SOE in France, p. 430.

[37] Foot, M. (n.d.). Violette Szabo. [online].

[39] The Telegraph, (2015). WWII heroine Violette Szabo’s George Cross fetches £260k. [online].


The Final Months

The women were put to work in Torgau and survived under horrendous conditions albeit they were left in a much weakened state. Returning to Ravensbruck the women were placed in solitary confinement where they were brutally assaulted. Around February 5th 1945 Violette Szabo was executed by a shot in the back of her head aged just twenty three. Her two companions Denise Bloch and Lilian Rolfe met the same fate although these two brave women were so weakened that they were unable to walk to their deaths.

Cecily Lefort who was also an agent of the SOE was put to death in the gas chamber, while all the bodies were cremated in the camp crematorium. The SOE has fifty five female agents of which

  • 13 were killed in action
  • 12 executed
  • One died from typhus
  • One died from meningitis

All the operatives who died whether in camps by execution or otherwise were listed as killed in action.


S.O.E. Monument

View all photos

Only a short distance from the headquarters of the MI6, the British secret intelligence service, stands a small plinth topped by the bronze bust of a defiant-looking young woman. In a city full of monuments this rather unassuming memorial is often passed by, barely inviting a disinterested glance from pedestrians. But it shouldn’t be.

Behind this monument is a moving story that commemorates the heroism of the men and women who served as secret agents and risked their lives to defeat the Nazis during World War II. One such woman was Violette Szabo, who sacrificed her life in the field in order to fight fascism.

Born in 1921 in Paris, Szabo grew up in London during the Great Depression. At the outbreak of the Second World War, she joined the Women’s Land Army and the Auxillary Territorial Service where she met and married a Free French corps soldier and gave birth to a daughter. Szabo’s husband was later drafted to North Africa where he was killed in action during the battle of El Alamein, an event that led Szabo to join the Special Operation Executive (S.O.E.) intelligence agency.

Due to her fluency in French, Szabo was considered to be a valuable asset for the wartime intelligence operations and underwent extensive training as a field agent, learning everything from how to conduct espionage and reconnaissance missions, to how to use effective sabotage skills, weapons, and explosives in guerilla warfare. She embarked on her first mission to Nazi-occupied France in 1944 to gather intelligence on local factories that were being used to produce war materials. It was hoped that any information gathered from behind enemy lines would greatly improve allied strategic bombing raids and buy valuable time for Britain. The operation, however, did not go to plan. The Gestapo captured and interrogated a British spy who under torture revealed sensitive information.

With the mission compromised, Szabo and her team were forced to hurriedly return to England in an RAF spy plane before the SS could hunt them down. During the escape, the plane was almost shot down by several Nazi anti-aircraft guns but luckily managed to reach the safety of England.

Only two months later, Szabo was back in the field for her second mission, which was to act as liaison with a group of local French-resistance partisans and to lead operations in sabotaging German communication lines. The mission was of top strategic importance to the Allied forces as its objective was to delay the Nazi military response to the Normandy D-Day landings, which were then imminent. Under cover of darkness, Szabo was parachuted behind enemy lines with two fellow spies and made contact with the resistance, but it became immediately apparent that the S.O.E. had vastly overestimated the capability of the partisans.

It was therefore decided that Szabo should be transferred to another resistance unit further south, and she set off right away. But due to poor intelligence gathered by the partisans, the group was unaware an SS unit was close by. What’s more, the resistance’s insistence on using cars for travel meant they naturally aroused the suspicions of the German forces. Upon meeting a roadblock the car was stopped, and realizing they were trapped, the spies fled from the car on foot into nearby fields with the soldiers in hot pursuit.

Szabo twisted her foot while running and, unable to keep up, encouraged the others to run for safety while she kept the Germans pinned down with covering fire from behind an apple tree. Showing enormous bravery she used her Sten submachine gun against the pursuers for over 30 minutes and succeeded in killing a Nazi corporal and wounding several German soldiers, thus allowing her comrades time to escape. Eventually, however, she ran out of ammunition, and before she could take her life with a cyanide pill was captured and dragged off to be interrogated by the SS.

A German officer was apparently so impressed with her bravery that he congratulated her and put one of his cigarettes in her mouth offering to light it. Szabo reputedly spat out the cigarette and then spat in his face demanding that her hands be untied so that she could smoke one of her own cigarettes. Her interrogation lasted four hours in which she was subjected to horrific torture and sexual violence before she was sent by train to Ravensbrück concentration camp.

In Ravensbrück, Szabo endured the inhuman conditions and harsh physical labor with an indomitable resilience, and even kept up the morale of the other imprisoned resistance fighters by beginning to organize an escape from the camp. Unfortunately, in February 1945 the Germans discovered her plans and she was taken to the execution block where she was shot and killed. Szabo was only 23 years old when she died, but in her short life she had shown tremendous bravery in her devotion to the cause of defeating fascism.


Violette Szabo: Bravery of the heroine spy caught, tortured and shot by the Nazis

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Violet Szabo's daughter Tania shows her mother's George Cross

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This week the medals awarded to Violette Szabó will go on public display at the Imperial War Museum in London to honour the courage of the woman who fought with the French Resistance and, after being captured, was brutally tortured by the Nazis.

In July, in my role as a champion of bravery and a gallantry medal collector, I purchased Szabó&rsquos medal group at auction, paying a world-record price for a GC.

Today she remains one of only four women in history to receive a direct award of the medal that was created by George VI in 1940 to recognise outstanding bravery not in the face of the enemy.

By becoming the custodian of these treasured awards for Szabó&rsquos courage as an undercover Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent, I guaranteed that the medals would remain in Britain and that they would go on permanent public display for the first time.

Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell (Szabó was her married name) was born in Paris to an English father and French mother on June 26 1921.

Young, spirited, sporty and with four brothers, her family settled in Stockwell, south London, from 1932.

When war broke out she was still only 18 and had spent four years working as a shop assistant.

From early in the war, Bushell was determined to make her mark and she joined the Land Army.

On July 14 1940 and to mark Bastille Day, Bushell&rsquos mother urged her to go to the Cenotaph in central London and invite a French soldier home for a meal.

The man she asked home, Sergeant Major Etienne Szabó, a member of the French Foreign Legion, fell in love with her and less than six weeks later &ndash on August 21 1940 &ndash they were married in Aldershot, Hampshire.

He was 30 and she was 19. Soon, however, Szabó&rsquos husband had to go to fight in North Africa and they did not see each other for a year.

Violette Szabo fought with the French Resistance and was tortured by the Nazi's

After being briefly reunited in Liverpool in the summer of 1941, Etienne Szabó had to return to duty.

They never saw each other again: she was pregnant when he departed.

He was killed at El Alamein in October 1942, four months after the birth of their only child, Tania.

Late in 1942, the SOE, which had been set up in 1940 with the aims of sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines, became aware of the recently-widowed Violette Szabó.

In 1943, she was recruited to them and, despite the risks, she was desperate to return to France and gain revenge for her husband&rsquos death.

During the run-up to her first mission, Szabó, who spoke fluent French and was a good shot, met Leo Marks, the SOE code master: all agents were trained to code and decode messages.

Marks apparently gave Szabó as her code poem the verse that he had written after learning that his girlfriend had died in a plane crash in Canada.

It read: The life that I have is all that I have/And the life that I have is yours./The love that I have of the life that I have, is yours and yours and yours./ A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have,/Yet death will be but a pause,/For the peace of my years, in the long green grass,/ Will be yours and yours and yours.

Szabo's first assignment took place two months before D-Day

Her first mission took place two months before D-Day.

Having been given a false identity, she was dropped into France on April 5 on a high-risk operation to act as a courier for the French Resistance.

Szabó carried out her mission calmly and competently: it was so successful that after less than four weeks in France, she was returned to Britain to be reunited with her daughter and her parents.

Szabó&rsquos superiors soon had an even more dangerous mission for her.

So she made her will and said an emotional farewell to Tania at around the time of her daughter&rsquos second birthday.

Early on June 8 1944, shortly after the D-Day landings, Szabó was back on French soil.

Violette and her husband Etienne during the second World War

However, on June 10, she was in a car with two Resistance men near Salon-laTour when they hit a roadblock.

After a shoot-out, Szabó was wounded and later captured.

Despite her injuries, she was taken to the military prison in Limoges and tortured.

Eyewitnesses saw her limping across the courtyard to the Gestapo offices for her twice-daily interrogations.

The conditions in which Szabó was kept during her detention were appalling and her health suffered.

She was eventually transferred to Ravensbrück in Germany, a concentration camp for women.

Some time between January 25 and February 5 1945, three women &ndash Szabó and two other SOE prisoners &ndash were taken to the execution alley there, where their death sentences were read to them.

Five months short of her 24th birthday, Szabó was shot in the back of the head along with her companions.

WWII heroine s George Cross sold for 260,000 in London

Szabó&rsquos GC was announced on December 17 1946, the citation ending: &ldquoShe was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously and atrociously tortured but never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances or told the enemy anything of any value&hellip Madame Szabó gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness.&rdquo

On January 28 1947, Tania Szabó, by now five years old and wearing a dress her mother had purchased in Paris on her first mission to France, received her mother&rsquos GC from George VI in an investiture at Buckingham Palace.

In 1949, Szabó&rsquos parents, Charles and Reine Bushell, emigrated to Australia, taking Tania with them. S ZABÓ&rsquoS remarkable story was turned into a film, Carve Her Name with Pride, based on the book by RJ Minney and starring Virginia McKenna.

The 1958 film helped perpetuate the story of the &ldquoCode Poem&rdquo written by Leo Marks.

McKenna was among many who supported an appeal launched in 1998 to start a museum in Szabó&rsquos honour in the grounds of the home of one of the secret agent&rsquos aunts.

This eventually opened in Herefordshire on June 24 2000 &ndash the closest Saturday to what would have been Szabó&rsquos 79th birthday.

I purchased Szabó&rsquos medal group at a Dix Noonan Webb auction in London on July 22, paying £260,000 (plus a buyer&rsquos premium of £52,000), for the honour of becoming the custodian of the awards.

They were sold by Tania Szabó, who is now 73, to help secure her future and meet the cost of a fire at her home.

I was delighted with her public response once she learned that I was the purchaser: &ldquoI&rsquom very happy with the result. They&rsquore going into a safe place where people will be able to view them &ndash many thousands of people &ndash so a good result.&rdquo

I feel privileged to be the custodian of Szabó&rsquos medal group and I am delighted that it will go on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum from Wednesday.

As her daughter Tania has acclaimed, Szabó lived a life that was &ldquoshort but lived to the full, with much happiness, joy, some deep sadness and great endeavour&rdquo.

Related articles

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster.

His five books on gallantry include George Cross Heroes.

Lord Ashcroft&rsquos VC and GC collection is on public display at the Imperial War Museum, London.


Watch the video: WW2 Heroines Medals To Remain In Public Eye (December 2021).