Female spies book “ripe for film adaptation”

Shadow Warriors of World War II: The Daring Woman of the OSS and SOE by Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis

A Foreword Review by Michelle Anne Schingler

This is an invaluable historical account, shedding light on the heroism and bravery of the women spies who helped usher the Allied forces toward a victory.

Move over, James Bond—these real life stories of secret agents belong to the ladies. Shadow Warriors of World War II, from Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis, is a thrilling, revelatory history of the women who contributed to the war efforts behind enemy lines as spies on behalf of Britain and America.

William Donovan, inspired by the burgeoning espionage efforts of the United Kingdom, persuaded President Roosevelt to initiate an agency on American soil, dedicated to gathering information and fighting the Nazis covertly. That organization would eventually feed into the CIA—but first, it would employ women for its actions, and to ends that defied expectations.

The stories here are ripe for film adaptation, but first require honor, as America and Britain’s first women spies are shown to have been both invaluable and at risk. Many ended up in concentration camps or at the receiving end of Nazi bullets.

Nancy Wake, who led an attack on a Gestapo HQ in France.

Their ranks included Nancy Wake—brazen, fiery, and skilled with weapons, she was the sort to dodge bullets and retrieve packages from vehicles before they exploded. Betty Pack used her considerable appeal to extract information from men during liaisons, and Virginia Hall posed as a journalist and became one of the agents the Nazis most resented. She escaped, on one leg, over the Pyrenees. These women jumped from planes, blew their covers to help others, and accepted the dangers they faced without blinking.

Thomas and Lewis unfold their stories carefully, preserving their efforts—their successes, their near escapes, and occasionally their betrayals—with detail, resulting in a history that is both thorough and exciting. Distressing conclusions are given their space, and fallen spies are honored, with their extraordinary efforts always taking center stage. While better known personalities also make appearances—even Ian Fleming is here—they are dwarfed by these “shadow warriors” and their daring exploits.

Virginia Hall, the one-legged spy who became the Gestapo’s “Most Wanted”.

This is an invaluable historical account, shedding light on the heroism and bravery of the women spies who helped usher the Allied forces toward a victory.

Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions by Women of the OSS & SOE

shadow-warriors-uk-editionWorld 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.



Lord Lovat

Lord Lovat Memorial
Lord Lovat Memorial

This is the statue of Lord Lovat at Sword Beach, Normandy.

Lovat was seriously wounded at the Battle of Breville (see previous post) on June 12, 1944.

He recovered and has gone down in legend as leader of D-Day’s 1st Special Service Brigade.


Normandy: Fighting among the graves at Breville

STA77011 The village of Breville stands on a hill looking towards Ranville, where the 6th Airborne Division had made its HQ in the days after dropping into Normandy on D-Day.


I took these photographs on June 7 this year. The village remains a place of pilgrimage for many.



The village was taken during fierce fighting on the night June 12, 1944, and into the early hours of the 13th.


These memorials stand in the village today near the church yard, which was the scene of ferocious combat.


Now among the old graves lie some of the 162 British troops who died taking this small village.



Captain HW Ward, of the 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry), Airlanding Light Regiment, Royal Artillery.

STA77020Private CJB Masters, 12th Battalion (Yorkshire), The Parachute Regiment.

Bayeux: D-Day & the Battle of Normandy

Bayeux Cemetery
Bayeux Cemetery

As we approach the 70th anniversary of D-Day, here’s a little feature on a place of great focus to veterans on June 6.

Every year a special service of remembrance is held at Bayeux War Cemetery. It is a very moving event.

These photographs were taken two years ago, on June 6, 2012.


The event was attended by many veterans and their families.



The cemetery contains 4,144 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 338 of them unidentified. There are also over 500 war graves of other nationalities, the majority German.


A D-Day Veteran’s Return to Normandy

Bayeux War Cemetery
Bayeux War Cemetery

A year ago today I was fortunate to be in France with Ted Owens, a veteran of 41 Commando who landed on Sword Beach on D-Day.

Ted, aged 88 and from Pembroke Dock, Wales, returned to the spot at which he had been wounded during the landings.

Ted was badly injured on the beach within a few minutes of the landing and was sent back home. He returned to his unit in August and later fought in Belgium and the Netherlands.

On June 6, we headed to Bayeux War Cemetery. Ted was keen to find the grave of a fallen comrade from 41 Commando.

Ted Owens at Bayeux War Cemetery
Ted Owens at Bayeux War Cemetery

He found the grave of Marine Ernest Spence, from Royton, Lancashire, and laid a small wooden cross.

Ernest Spence, killed on D-Day.
Ernest Spence, killed on D-Day.

Ted’s trip was filmed for a television programme called ‘Welsh Heroes of World War 2: D-Day Commando’, which is available to watch online here.