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The Amazing Stories That Inspired Mission of Mercy, Book 6 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story

WHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of my fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and the story was inspired by real events.

Today, Mission of Mercy IS FREE. Yes! FREE. You can get it in ebook form at this link.

Here are the amazing stories that inspired the writing of Mission of Mercy, Part 6 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story.

mission of mercy

There are dozens of documented cases of female physicians – working on both sides of the conflict – but there are very few detailed stories about any of them, and I found no detailed stories about any women who worked covertly as a physician. Likewise, while members of the International Red Cross performed near miraculous acts of heroism and suffered incredible personal sacrifice throughout the conflict, the organization was then and is now, completely neutral. And finally, the very much not red headed nurse on the cover of this book never personally went to combat, but represents so many young women who surrendered their lives to a life of service, willingly answering the call to offer aid and comfort in a time of global war.

Like all of my characters, the fictional character, Doctor Beatrice “Betty” Grimes, is entirely made up. The half Scottish and half French redheaded surgeon who worked in a London hospital until a bombing during the Blitz, and who later becomes a spy pretending to be a Red Cross nurse who really works covertly as a doctor for the resistance does not represent a single historical woman. The thing that makes her unique in my mind is that, more than any of my other Virtues heroines, Betty represents an amalgam of many real people and not just a single individual.

While there were few details of physicians working covertly to defeat the Nazis from which I could draw to fill out my fictional character, there is one particularly brave woman who came to mind. What follows is only a summary of the amazing story of the incredibly courageous woman named Marthe Cohn.

Marthe Cohn

Marthe was a Jewish woman from Alsace-Lorraine, France, near the border of Germany. Her family actually helped hide Jews who fled Germany until the German occupation of France. Her sister, father, and brother were arrested in 1942. Her father and brother survived.

At one point, her sister was offered her freedom, but insisted on staying a Nazi captive in order to help care for the interned Jewish children. Eventually, she ended up at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland and did not survive the war.

After the liberation of Paris in 1945, Marthe joined the French army. Because she had blonde hair and spoke fluent German, the French intelligence created falsified documents and a fictional identity for her – that of a German nurse.

Marthe made 13 unsuccessful attempts to cross the border into Germany, finally succeeding. During a speech given after the war, Marthe said, “I took my little suitcase and walked towards the German border guard. Then I raised my right arm and said, ‘Heil Hitler’ and showed him my papers. It worked, and I was in Germany.”

Her job was to seek out information regarding the German retreat; specifically, information about the Siegfred Line, a 400-mile long German defense system. While covertly obtaining and funneling vital information to her contacts, Marthe treated German soldiers, including members of the Schutzstaffel, the dreaded Waffen SS.

As a spy, to gain the sympathy of her assets, she told the Nazis she was desperately trying to find her fictional fiancé, a German soldier listed as missing in combat. Gaining the confidence of the men she treated, she discovered that the retreating German army lay in wait for Allied troops in the Black Forest, and that the Siegfred Line had, in fact, been abandoned.

Because of the intelligence she provided, Allied troops broke through the Siegfred Line and successfully penetrated into the heart of Germany, eventually taking Berlin.

In 2000, Marthe received France’s highest military honor, the Medaille Militaire. In 2002, the Los Angeles based Simon Wisenthal Center declared her a Woman of Valor for her service to the Allied forces. In 2006, just four years after its establishment, she received the Medaille de Reconnaissance de la Nation from the French government.

Cadet Nurse Marguerite V. Clodfelter (circa 1944)
Cadet Nurse Marguerite V. Clodfelter (circa 1944)

Pictured on the cover of this book is the very not red headed Marguerite V. Clodfelter. Canadian born, Marguerite and her family lived in upstate New York when the war broke out. Both of her brothers were offered American citizenship if they accepted the American draft versus going back to Canada to join the Canadian armed forces, and they readily accepted. In 1944, Marguerite graduated from high school and immediately joined the newly formed Cadet Nurse Corps.

At the height of the war and with a nursing crisis in America, Marguerite fast-tracked through nursing school then worked as a nurse in the House of the Good Samaritan Hospital in Watertown, New York. At any time, she could have been deployed to Europe or the Pacific. As it turned out, she served with the Nurse Corps until the end of the war, providing a much needed service on the home front. During her service, she applied for and received her American Citizenship. She married Bob Clodfelter in 1947.

Visit the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project online at http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/WVHP/ or write to the project at: UNCG Digital Collections, PO Box 26170, Greensboro NC 27402-6170.

While my fictional Betty Grimes goes under cover as a Red Cross Nurse, this is just my own artistic license. It is unlikely that Betty’s disguise as a Red Cross nurse would allow her to carry out a mission of espionage – but doing so allowed me, perhaps selfishly, to honor that organization in my own small way. The International Red Cross has always protected its neutral stance so that it can have access to the local populace in disputed territories and so that fear of spying will not hinder the performance of any of its very important duties.

The horrors of the first World War ran the gamut, ranging from tooth edged bayonets in the trenches all the way to widespread use of chemical weapons. After the armistice, nations met in neutral Geneva with the intent of creating and ratifying a set of conventions that would govern how warfare could legally be conducted should hostilities resume. The International Red Cross was linked to these Geneva Conventions with respect to how captured personnel should be treated during war. For the countries who ratified the Geneva Conventions, this gave them access to prisoners of war and captured civilians.

In 1934, the International Red Cross had attempted to get all nations to agree to legal safeguards for civilians in any area where war had broken out. However, those in authority agreed to defer further talks of this until 1940. Consequently, when WWII broke out, many civilians had no safeguarded legal rights – civilians including Jews, Priests, the elderly, homosexuals, gypsies, etc., became civilian victims of the Nazi regime. The Red Cross never stopped trying to access those who were arrested, deported, or sent into forced labor, but met with little success.

The Red Cross really went into action in Greece. Before the war, Greece imported one third of its food supplies. When it was occupied in April 1941, what crops existed were destroyed in fighting. During the first year of occupation, it is estimated that up to 500 children per day died of malnourishment. In March 1942, the Red Cross sought and received permission from the occupying nations to bring in food. They brought in freighters of food, painted with large red crosses, and set up food kitchens. In two months, they produced over 500,000 basins of soup, pulling the populace away from the very brink of starvation.

nurses_american-red-cross-unclesam-wwii cubanc_41_1_00367274a, 10/30/09, 9:41 AM, 8C, 7270x10632 (347+0), 100%, Custom, 1/60 s, R63.2, G44.0, B73.0

During the war, the Red Cross established and staffed auxiliary hospitals where permitted. The personnel were neutral and treated anyone – regardless of sides taken in any conflict. In return, the hospitals were not deemed legitimate targets. The distinctive Red Cross emblem and blue and red nurse cape of the Red Cross nurse became a welcome vision to wounded men of every nationality.

nurses_american-red-cross nurses_nazi-red-cross-wwii

Article 79 of the Geneva Convention allowed the Red Cross collect letters and forward them to prisoners of war. The letters had to be only 25 words long and could only contain family news. The letters went to headquarters in Geneva, and there forwarded to the locations of the prisoners. By 1945, they had facilitated 24 million letters.

During WWII, the Red Cross had their hands full in keeping up with German prisoners of war. In September 1939, the Germans captured 500,000 Polish soldiers in just 22 days. By 1940, 30,000 British troops were prisoner, along with thousands of French, Belgium, and Dutch troops. By the end of the war, it is documented that Germany had captured over 232,000 western prisoners of war.

The Red Cross sent trained medical staff into prisons to check on the living conditions, the quality of food, and the health of the prisoners. They also fielded complaints about treatment.

nurses_churchill-aids-russia

The first time the Red Cross had any kind of formal access to Russian POW’s was in the last few weeks of the war as Nazi Germany crumbled.

The Red Cross could only operate in countries that allowed it to operate and who were part of the Geneva Convention. Since Russia had not signed the Geneva Convention, the many Russians who were taken as POW’s did not receive Red Cross visits. The Germans kept the Russians in appalling conditions and were not required under any international laws to improve upon them. Over 3.2 million Soviets were taken prisoner by the Germans, and 2.8 million of them died due to the terrible conditions of imprisonment.

“The Red Cross, with its clubs for recreation, its coffee and doughnuts in the forward areas, its readiness to meet the needs of the well and to help minister to the wounded… has often seemed to be the friendly hand of this nation, reaching across the sea to sustain its fighting men.” – Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Address to Congress, June 18, 1945

The inhumane conditions prisoners endured at the hands of the Empire of Japan are now widely known though seldom discussed. Nearly all prisoners were starved, tortured, and humiliated. Female prisoners were routinely raped and beaten. Executions were commonplace and often involved stabbing, beating to death, or burning prisoners alive in order to conserve vital ammunition.

nurses_japan_corregidor
66 US Army nurses, 11 US Navy nurses, and a nurse- anesthetist were captured and imprisoned shortly after the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. These women became known as the “Angels of Bataan and Corregidor” and they were treated brutally by their Japanese captors until finally being liberated in 1945.

Ironically, Japan had signed the Geneva Conventions years before, but had never ratified them, so the land of the rising sun did not feel bound by any of the Conventions stipulations or terms. Japan hindered the Red Cross from doing any good at all, and instead accused workers of being spies. Japanese soldiers went so far as to arrest and summarily execute a Red Cross delegate and his wife on suspicion of espionage. They allowed no neutral ships into their harbors, which meant no food or aid parcels could be sent.

The Red Cross also attempted to help those in concentration camps, even though no official protection for civilians had been established. In 1943, they were allowed to send aid/food parcels to named prisoners in the camps, but they only had a few names. They sent the parcels, and receipts came back with dozens more names scribbled on them. By the time the war ended, the Red Cross has managed to compile a list of more than 105,000 names of people interred in concentration camps and was able to send out over 1 million parcels.

I imagine that the food and aid contained in those parcels meant the difference between life and death for many who received them. Near the end of the war, Red Cross delegates actually stayed in each of the camps as observers. This experience, and the sheer magnitude of the horrors they witnessed at places like Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, would haunt these men and women for the rest of their natural lives.
The agent I code-named Mercy represents so many actual historical women and is intended to honor them. So many that they would fill an entire set of books, I imagine. Even more, she represents many ideals that personally inspire me. May God bless you.

Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart,
Proverbs 3:3 (NKJV)

Today through November 9th, Mission of Mercy IS FREE. Yes! FREE. You can get it in ebook form at this link.

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The Amazing Stories That Inspired Grace’s Ground War, Book 5 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story

GraceWHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of my fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and the story was inspired by real events.

Today, Grace’s Ground War IS FREE. Yes! FREE. You can get it in ebook form at this link.

Here are the amazing stories that inspired the writing of Grace’s Ground War, Part 5 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story.

grace

The girl on the cover of this book carrying the M1916 Spanish Mauser is a derivative image of the now iconic photograph of 17 year old Marina Ginestà. The original photograph was snapped on July 21, 1936 by Juan Guzman, who was born Hans Gutmann in Germany before moving to Spain. In the original photograph, Marina stands overlooking Barcelona from the rooftop of the Hotel Colón during the outset of the Spanish Civil War. At the time, she worked as a translator for a Soviet journalist of Pravda. She was a member of Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas (Socialist Youth), the youth organization mainly directed by Partido Comunista de España (PCE, Communist Party of Spain).

Despite her early involvement, Marina quickly realized she had been duped by the Stalinists and left the Soviet movement, joining up with the anti-Stalinist P.O.U.M – alongside such notables as George Orwell – and contributing as a militant soldier and journalist for several Republican media outlets in the struggle against Communism, Fascism, and Franco for the duration of the conflict.

Marina did not even know about the photo until 2006, although the image was printed, reprinted, and circulated everywhere and has become symbolic of the conflict and even of that time in history. Marina Ginestà died January 6, 2014 in Paris, at the age of 94.
The prologue of this book is set in Hebron immediately after the massacre that took place there in the late 1920s. While the Aubertins are fictional characters, the bloodshed there was all too real.

Desecrated_synagogue,_Hebron_1929
Synagogue, Hebron 1929 — Photo source

In August 1929, in an ominous prelude to the coming Nazi propaganda against the Jews in Europe, a radical Islamic faction of jihadists carrying out a fatwa against the Jews living in (then) British Palestine engaged in Taqiyya, which is to say they lied, deliberately deceived, and spread false rumors against the Jews. This organized campaign of deception spread throughout British Palestine with the intent of inciting violence against the Jewish population. The rumors claimed that Jews were massacring Arabs in Jerusalem and seizing control of Muslim holy places.

On August 24, 1929, the Hebron Massacre began. Hebron is a city south of Jerusalem and is Biblically the burial place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah. After only 3 days, 67 Jews were killed, and many more were seriously injured or maimed. Homes and synagogues were pillaged and destroyed. Throughout British Palestine, 133 Jews and 110 Arabs were killed.

The British authorities relocated the 435 surviving Jews from Hebron to Jerusalem in an attempt to protect them. The massacres of the Jews in Hebron and in Safed led to the re-organization and development of the Jewish paramilitary organization, the Haganah, which later became the nucleus of the Israel Defense Forces.

The character of Ruth Aubertin, code-named Grace, was inspired by none other than “The White Mouse,” better known as Nancy Grace Wake.

Nancy Grace Wake, aka: “The White Mouse”
Nancy Grace Wake, aka: “The White Mouse”

An Australian by birth, Nancy left her native soil in her early twenties on a world tour, supporting herself with freelance journalism. She met Henri Fiocca, one of the wealthiest men in Marseille, France, at a party one evening and the two fell deeply and madly in love.
They married in 1939. Henri spoiled his beloved bride with a luxurious lifestyle she had never even imagined. When Henri prepared to go to war, Nancy said she wanted to go, too. He asked her what she could do, and she replied, “Drive an ambulance.”

“But you can’t drive,” he’d reasoned.

“You must have me taught,” she’d insisted.

Never one to deny her anything, he had one of the mechanics who worked for him teach her. She drove an ambulance back and forth from Belgium to Paris, transporting refugees, wounded soldiers, and civilians needing to escape the oncoming Nazi front. When Paris fell to the Germans, she knew she also had to leave or be arrested. She drove her truck until it broke down, then walked and hitchhiked the rest of the way back home to Marseille where her husband, a defeated French soldier from the front lines, met her.

With half of France under Hitler’s boot heel, their area of Southern France fell under Vichy rule. However, the Führer could snatch it up at any time because the Vichy government collaborated with – and capitulated to – Berlin. While the Fioccas resumed what sense of a “normal” life they could manage, Nancy used their wealth to hoard as much canned food as possible, then started stockpiling black market soaps, cigarettes, and meat, all of which she generously shared with those in need.

Many British troops held as prisoners of war at Fort St. Jean had “parole” that allowed them to come into the town. Over time, Nancy and Henri became hosts to them. They fed them in their home, provided them with soap and cigarettes, and eventually with money. Their home became a planning center for the POWs at Fort St. Jean to escape back to Britain. Soon, she began traveling, delivering messages from the POWs to contacts in other towns. Eventually, she began making deliveries for the French Resistance as a trusted courier.

Because they lived across the street from the Vichy Commissaire, who had begun watching them closely, Nancy and Henri eventually rented a flat that they kept stocked with food where those planning illegal activities could meet.

In November 1942, the Germans marched into unoccupied France. By now, the Germans knew that a woman they assumed was a French (though Nancy was not French) traveled and transported so much information, but they did not know her name so they dubbed her “The White Mouse.”

One time, she and four men working with the Resistance rode a train. She carried a suitcase filled with a butchered black market pig. She ended up sharing a train compartment with a Gestapo agent who was actually on the train trying to capture “The White Mouse”. She charmed him into carrying her suitcase for her, which breezed her through the customs checkpoint, and then made it safely away.

Eventually, she knew she had fallen under suspicion and that the Gestapo watched her. She and her husband made plans for her to return to Great Britain using the very underground she’d helped for years.

While making her escape, the Gestapo stopped her train and arrested everyone on board. En route to the prison, the trucks that transported the prisoners got stuck in traffic. Nancy and several others rushed out of the trucks and ran away. However, the arresting officers found her and took her to jail. There, she found out that the Gestapo in her own town denied knowing her existence, and the Gestapo in another town claimed her as a well-known prostitute. She then realized that they had framed her for blowing up a movie theater in another town. They spent days beating her and questioning her, trying to get her to admit to a crime she did not commit, or to admit to those who helped her. Enduring days of continual beatings, she said nothing.

Finally, the contact named O’Leary, who had planned to help get her out of France, arrived at the prison and used a ruse and false papers to secure her release. They tried to escape to Spain five times. On the sixth attempt, they had 10 escaped prisoners with them and, while they rode the train, a railway official came to their compartment and warned them that the Germans planned to stop the train ahead. As the train slowed, Nancy, O’Leary, and the prisoners jumped out the windows. Under heavy machine gun fire, Nancy ran through a field and up the side of a mountain, where she and the men who successfully escaped, hid for two days.

O’Leary went to meet a contact and got arrested. Nancy and the others disbanded, and she and a few of them made it to Nice, where Nancy hid in the home of an enemy of the Reich, Madame Sainson. She had sheltered many wanted men and women, and had teenaged children who also acted as couriers. Nancy stayed there for three weeks, until she could acquire new papers and travel to Perpignan, where she found one of O’Leary’s contacts and convinced him to take her to Spain.

She and a group walked for three hours that night and at dawn, rode in the back of a coal truck. After going as far as the “lorry” could take them, they met up with two guides who marched them for 47 hours to Spain, walking across the mountains, through blizzards, and fighting hunger and thirst. No sooner had they arrived in Spain than she and her group of 6 were arrested. For three days they were given no food or water and endured miserable conditions in a cell with 17 other people. On the third day, the police took her out of the cell and shackled her to a chair and questioned her. She did not speak Spanish and did not answer any of their questions. They fed the bunch, then took them by bus to Gerona, where they were charged with illegal entry of the country. The judge was bribed £1,000 to let them free, and Nancy made it to Barcelona. Ten days later, she left for Great Britain.

After two months in London, it occurred to her that her husband would not be following her out of France, so she contacted Free French Headquarters and volunteered her services. Because she wasn’t French, they didn’t trust that she wasn’t a British spy. In short order, she went to the British Special Operations Executive, or S.O.E.. After several weeks of training, she parachuted (wearing high heels!) back into France almost a year after the beginning of her escape. She worked as a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Captain Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais. She worked on securing arms and equipment that came in via parachute. She recruited members until the maquis groups grew into a formidable force of 7,500 strong. She also led attacks on German installations and the local Gestapo headquarters in Montluçon.

Nancy worked ruthlessly against the Nazis, at one point executing a female Nazi spy who the men in her unit did not have the “heart” to kill. Another time she killed a male sentry with her bare hands to keep him from sounding an alarm. During an interview in the 1990’s, the interviewer asked Nancy about killing the sentry. She drew her finger across her throat in a slicing motion and said, “They’d taught this judo-chop stuff with the flat of the hand at SOE, and I practiced away at it. But this was the only time I used it – whack – and it killed him all right. I was really surprised.”

At the end of the war, Nancy looked forward to being reunited with her beloved husband. It was only then that she discovered that the Gestapo had captured Henri and questioned him about Nancy’s whereabouts. Through the days and nights of endless torture, Henri never betrayed her. He never gave her up. They eventually tortured him to death.

For her service and sacrifice, Nancy received the George Medal, the United States Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and the Croix de Guerre three times. Nancy was also appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1970 and received a promotion to Officer of the Legion of Honour in 1988.

In February 2004, Nancy received the Companion of the Order of Australia. In April 2006, she was awarded the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association’s highest honor, the RSA Badge in Gold.

After the war, she worked for the Intelligence Department at the British Air Ministry attached to embassies in both Paris and Prague. She eventually became very active in Australian and British politics. In 1957, Nancy remarried, this time to a British RAF officer named John Forward. The couple lived in Australia until his death in 1997.

In 2001, Nancy returned to London, where she lived until her 98th year. Nancy Grace Wake died in August of 2011. The New York Times used her death to inspire the title and included her obituary in the book The Socialite who Killed a Nazi with Her Bare Hands: And 144 Other Fascinating People who Died this Year.

WHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of my fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and the story was inspired by real events.

Grace’s Ground War IS FREE today through November 9th. Yes! FREE. You can get it in ebook form at this link.

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The Amazing Stories That Inspired A Parcel for Prudence, Book 4 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story

4ParcelPrudence_640WHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of my fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and the story was inspired by real events.

Today, A Parcel for Prudence IS FREE. Yes! FREE. You can get it in ebook form at this link.

Here are the amazing stories that inspired the writing of A Parcel for Prudence, Part 4 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story.

prudence

WHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of these fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and their stories were inspired by real events.

The woman depicted on the cover of this book is a thus far unidentified former French resistance operative who, shortly after the liberation of Paris and at the request of a war correspondent, demonstrated the means by which she photographed key Nazi targets using a mini-camera hidden inside her purse. There are thousands of stories of fearless women who worked to defeat Nazi Germany while behind enemy lines.

I made every effort to remain true to actual history in my fictionalized story of Prudence which is based upon the truly inspiring real life heroine, Cécile Pearl Cornioley (ne: Witherington).

cecile pearl cornioleyBorn in Paris, June 24, 1914 into a very troubled family, her father drank heavily and her mother barely spoke French, so her mother looked to Pearl to handle a lot of the family’s business. This bleak childhood toughened Pearl into a strong woman, willing to fight for anything in life. Pearl didn’t start attending school until age 13, and then went to a bilingual school where she studied entirely in French in the morning and in English in the afternoon.

Once she left school, she worked in the British Embassy in Paris. Her father had died and her embassy job provided the only means of financial support for her family. What complicated her life was that shortly after leaving school, Pearl had fallen in love.
Henri Cornioley had started courting Pearl in 1933, and she eventually accepted his proposal of marriage. Once engaged, they struggled to obtain the blessings of their families, but neither of their families supported the union. Her mother didn’t want to lose her only means of financial support while Henri’s father didn’t want his son saddled with Pearl’s financially dependent family.

Pearl worked at the Embassy for 7 years all the way up until the war started. Henri had been called into French military service in 1939. As fate would have it, Henri was taken prisoner by the Germans in 1940. Miraculously, he later escaped from a prisoner of war camp and made his way back to Pearl.

When the Germans invaded France, Pearl and her family fled to Normandy. Her family was British, but despite promises from the British Embassy where she had toiled for seven long years, they received no help in getting transportation to Great Britain. In the winter of 1940, they found out that the Nazis had begun to arrest British citizens and they, again, fled Paris. They had a harrowing journey, many times on foot, from Paris to Spain to Gibraltar to Scotland then at long last to London, arriving on July 14, 1941. Pearl’s two sisters joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force while she worked for two years for the director of Allied Air Forces and Foreign Liaison.

Ultimately, Pearl joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and trained as a courier. She specifically asked to be attached to the “Stationer network” which was run by an old school friend. Their mission: harass the enemy, exhaust them, impede them by destroying communications and transportation lines, stop munitions production, and anything else they could do to hurt the enemy’s mission.

On September 22, 1943, Pearl parachuted into Occupied France and assumed the identity of a French national named Pauline and the codename, Wrestler. In wireless transmissions back to England, she was “Marie.” She was not yet 30 years old. There, she worked as a courier for Maurice Southgate. She often traveled by train, and as a way to disguise her intent, carried with her “pro-Nazi” French magazines. Henri’s father owned a cosmetics company named Isabelle Lancray, and Pearl had paperwork that provided a cover story of a cosmetic saleswoman to help explain why she traveled so much.

One of her team’s secret missions was to recruit and train smaller teams all throughout France so that on D-Day, the Allies would have help everywhere. They organized over 1500 members. This drew attention and the Gestapo arrested Maurice on May 1, 1944. On May 2, Pearl and her team arrived at an estate in Indre. They had supplies parachuted in and accomplished two more missions in that month. On July 11, 1944, three German garrisons (about 2,000 men) surrounded and attacked the estate. During the battle, Pearl lost 24 men.

She ran from the house and hid in a wheat field, crawling on her hands and knees while Germans shot at her. She hid in the field until 10:30 that night. Then she hid in a house while the Germans searched farms, estates, and houses, killing some people, arresting a few, terrorizing others. They burned down houses and barns and searched for Pearl’s team, whom they called “terrorists”. This became known as the Battle of Les Souches, which was a small part of a larger battle in which 32 French patriots lost their lives.

After losing her that night, the Germans put a ƒ1,000,000 price on her head.

Pearl reorganized after Les Souches, and Henri, who had returned to France and reunited with her after his harrowing escape from the Nazi run prisoner of war camp, became her second in command. They lived in the woods, organizing the flood of volunteers who suddenly foresaw a positive outcome in the war after the successful D-Day invasion. Their constant acts of sabotage often prevented German troops and munitions from reaching the Normandy coast. They also provided the RAF with intelligence that led to the bombing of a German train carrying 60 tankers of gasoline. This raid seriously handicapped the German army.

henri cornioley and pearl
Henri and Pearl — Photo source

 

Pearl rose to command more than 3,000 underground fighters who killed more than 1,000 Nazi troops and injured countless more. In September 1944, France was finally liberated. Pearl and Henri presided over the surrender of more than 18,000 German troops.

Within months, the couple returned to London where they finally, at long last, married thus ending their protracted eleven year engagement. They went on to have one daughter, Claire.

After the war, Pearl was nominated for an MBE, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. However, there are two categories of the MBE: the military and the civil. Pearl had been nominated for the civil award, which she rejected with an icy note that stated, “There was nothing remotely ‘civil’ about what I did.”

Though she had completed airborne training and became one of only a handful of women to jump into enemy territory during the war, she was never awarded her parachutist badge, a fact she felt was a grave injustice for her entire life. In September 1946, Great Britain finally awarded her the military MBE. Much more recently, she was also awarded the CBE, the order of Chivalry known as the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, and the French Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur or the National Order of the Legion of Honour.

Henri died in 1999. Pearl died in 2008 at the age of 93.

Read about Murielle Tolson, code-named PRUDENCE, who was inspired by the amazing Pearl Witherington, in A Parcel for Prudence, FREE November 4-8 at this link.

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The Amazing Stories That Inspired Charity’s Code, Book 3 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story

cover_9781939603470_front_640WHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of my fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and the story was inspired by real events.

Today, Charity’s Code IS FREE. Yes! FREE. You can get it in ebook form at this link.

Here are the amazing stories that inspired the writing of Charity’s Code, Part 3 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story.

charity

WHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of these fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and their story was inspired by real events.

While every effort has been made to remain true to actual history, two of the real events of significance that are fictionalized in the story of Charity are the Blitzkrieg, also sometimes referred to as the Battle of Britain, and the British Ministry of Health Evacuation Scheme, which was the program to relocate the children of England to the countryside for the duration.

blitz london

On the first of July in 1940, the freshly bloodied Luftwaffe capitalized on successful bombing raids against Poland and Holland, dropping the first bombs on England. The bombing would escalate into the Blitzkrieg, and between 7 September 1940 and 21 May 1941 there were almost daily (or nightly) major aerial raids on 16 British cities. The attacks resulted in more than 100 tonnes of high explosives being dropped on mostly civilian targets in England.

The Luftwaffe bombed Great Britain for 57 consecutive nights starting on 7 September 1940. Destroying or damaging more than one million London houses and killing more than 40,000 civilians. On the single night of 14 November 1940, Hitler sent 515 bombers against Britain in what was later called the Coventry raid. The destruction and the death toll was shocking.

Citizens had five minutes to get to shelters once the air raid sirens sounded. Many Londoners who had lost their homes to the relentless bombing simply moved into the underground subway tubes.

tube

Courageous Londoners hunkered down every night, dusted off every morning, and picked up the pieces every day. Neighbors and families banded together. Neighborhoods organized into clearing teams. Blackout wardens comforted the living and counted the dead.

blitz

When war with Nazi Germany became imminent in the late 1930s, Great Britain began a huge effort to evacuate its children to rural areas of the country. The Ministry of Health was charged by King George VI with organizing an evacuation of as many children as possible from the urban centers to safer locales. Some children were sent to the United States, Australia, or Canada. The goal was to move them away from potential bombing targets such as London and urban centers near military production sites.

The Ministry of Health devised the Child Evacuation Scheme which was largely managed by volunteers. Although evacuation was never made mandatory, many parents put their children on the next scheduled train and sent them to parts unknown in the care of the British State simply to save them from the ravages of war.

posters

After the first bombs fell, sending one’s children to safety was widely viewed as the responsible thing to do. Countless parents who sent their children away from the cities saved their children’s lives. At the end of the war, estimates suggest that more than 230,000 British children had been orphaned.

children

Every day hundreds of children wearing paper identification tags sewn to their clothing made their way, mostly by rail, to safe countryside locations. Some were fortunate enough to stay with relatives but most ended up staying with complete strangers in towns they had never before visited.

The worry and concern for their children served as a constant distraction and source of heartbreak to city dwellers who had lost nearly everything and often feared for their lives as the Nazi bombs continued to relentlessly fall overhead.

Sadly, many children were placed into group homes in the countryside or involuntarily evacuated to Australia when space got too tight to manage. Many of these children would never be reunited with their living parents at the conclusion of the war.

During World War II, the Germans remodeled a 400-year-old building called Colditz Castle (Schloss Colditz), a Renaissance castle located in the town of Colditz near Leipzig, Dresden, and Chemnitz in the state of Saxony in Germany. It overlooked the Mulde River and had 7-foot thick outside walls. The interior of the 6-story structure contained a maze of concealed staircases, hidden passageways, and hundreds of rooms.

colditz castle
Schloss Colditz aka Colditz Castle circa 1939

When they completed the work to turn the building into a prison, the Germans renamed it Oflag IV C (Sonderlager IV C) and claimed that escape would be impossible. It became the holding place for highly important prisoners and those that habitually tried to escape from other prisons.

Floor plan of Castle Colditz once converted to Oflag IV C.
Floor plan of Castle Colditz once converted to Oflag IV C.

On November 7, 1940, six British officers who had tried to escape from another prison camp arrived, including Rupert Barry. My towering and strong fictional character, Tom, is based on stalwart and faithful Rupert.

By Christmas, Colditz Castle held 200 prisoners – the maximum it could hold. By February 1941, another 200 French prisoners had arrived, doubling the maximum occupancy rate. By July, the Nazis held 500 POWs there.

Two of the British officers, Captain P. R. Reid and Captain Rupert Barry, worked together to create a code that Barry then wrote in a letter to his wife, Dodo, upon whom the fictional Dotty, code-named Charity, is based. The real life heroine, Dodo Barry, was a highly intelligent woman who could solve the complicated Times of London crossword puzzle in mere minutes. Captain Rupert Barry doted upon his beloved wife and, what’s more, he deeply appreciated and respected her keen mind. He felt more than confident in his wife’s abilities to crack the code they devised.

The address being written at an angle trailing up toward the stamp in the fictional story of Charity is a fiction based on numerous such factual occurrences throughout history. Soldiers during the American War Between the States would do this, hiding secret love messages beneath the postage stamps. Many spies used the same method during the First World War. During the Second World War, spies on all sides would hide microdots beneath postage stamps. The method of hiding keys and codes “under the rug” of a postage stamp became so popular, that a key to a cipher code was even hidden beneath a postage stamp in a famous Agatha Christie story.

In real life, upon receiving the letter, Dodo at first thought that conditions as a German POW had broken her dear husband’s mind. He wrote about relatives they didn’t have and referred to places they’d never visited. Then she realized that he’d written the letter in code and she spent the day deciphering the letter using nothing but her very own wits.

Decoded, it read:

Go to the War Office, ask them to send forged Swedish diplomatic papers for Reid, Howe, Allan, Lockwood, Elliott, Wardle, Milne, and self.

The next morning, Dodo went to the War Office. The officer at the desk would not let her into the building. While she stood in front of the clerk’s desk arguing with him, another officer walked by and she pleaded with him to help her. As if by providence, the officer happened to be assigned to military intelligence, a military branch with ties to MI-9.
The officer, whose name is lost to history, realized Dodo was onto something. He started working with her and had her write back to her husband and tell him, without code, that his elderly “Aunt Christine” was deeply saddened by her nephew’s capture and would write him shortly.

Under that guise, and using the same code the prisoners had created, and Dodo had deciphered, the War Office sent him a coded letter that said:

The War Office considered the use of Swedish diplomatic papers to be too dangerous.
Angry, disappointed, and frustrated with the news, instead of writing “Aunt Christine” back, Barry wrote Dodo back. Once she received his second encoded letter, she took it back to her contact at the War Office.

The deciphered message read:

We will consider the danger and not the War Office. Would you please expedite the request?

The War Office never sent the papers. However, these first “Dodo” letters had opened up a line of communication between the War Office, MI-9, and the POWs being held at Colditz Castle.

Of absolute primary importance, they needed to establish a better code.

The very tall Rupert Barry (second from the left) along with 5 former POWs pictured here outside Castle Colditz after the war.

The very tall Rupert Barry (second from the left) along with 5 former POWs pictured here outside Castle Colditz after the war.
The very tall Rupert Barry (second from the left) along with
5 former POWs pictured here outside Castle Colditz after
the war.

To anyone who spoke English, the simply encoded letters would have read as a little bit odd or disjointed. The Nazi censors often only had a rudimentary grasp of the English language, so they were able to slip by unnoticed. However, four letters in this rudimentary code was pushing their luck. Eventually, they felt the Nazis would catch on and have insight into their plans.

Under the direction of her intelligence officer, Dodo wrote a letter to Rupert explaining that an International Red Cross package would arrive with further instructions. Along with some clothing, one package contained six handkerchiefs with different colored borders. Coded instructions in Dodo’s letter directed Barry to place the green bordered handkerchief in hot water and stir for several minutes. Soon, a more elaborate code appeared in hidden ink on the handkerchief. Barry memorized the code then destroyed the material. Over time, she shared the code with his fellow prisoners who also memorized it.
With well coded letters and hidden supplies contained in Red Cross packages, the MI-9 office (escape and evasion service) supplied the prisoners in Colditz with money, identification documents, radios, tools, train schedules, border crossing policies and routines, clothing, and even weapons.

Letter from Colditz sent home to Scotland by POW Captain Julius Morris Green. A dentist before the war, Green was captured fighting the Nazis at Dunkirk in 1940. Green sent more than 40 coded letters home once the letters sent to Dodo bore fruit.
Letter from Colditz sent home to Scotland by POW Captain
Julius Morris Green. A dentist before the war, Green was
captured fighting the Nazis at Dunkirk in 1940. Green sent
more than 40 coded letters home once the letters sent to
Dodo bore fruit.

The war effort was greatly aided by critical intelligence sent home from the prisoners. One such prisoner, a skilled dentist, was often called upon to treat German soldiers and officers as well as his fellow prisoners. He sent letters back home to Scotland and the ones that began “Dear Dad” often contained crucial information pertaining to troop movements inside Germany.

With the aid of the secreted supplies and intelligence MI-9 could provide via this now secure communication channel, 130 prisoners escaped from Colditz Castle – either successfully or unsuccessfully – over a 5 year period.

Of those 130 escaped prisoners, 32 of them escaped successfully. In all, 12 Frenchmen, 11 Britons, 7 Dutch, and 1 Polish prisoner of war made it all the way home, a feat that came to be known as a Home Run. This number of prisoners of war escaping and making it all the way back home is unequaled in modern warfare. Among these successful escapees was Captain P. R. Reid who had helped Rupert Barry pen that very first letter to his wife, Dodo.

Because of Dodo, also the name of a now extinct bird, the Colditz Castle escapees came to be known as the “Birdmen of Colditz” and their escapes and attempted escapes have been the subject of many books, films, and even a BBC television series. Very few photographs of Dodo or her husband survive today.

cover_9781939603470_front_640Selected for the cover of this book is the incredible Yolande Betbeze (ne Fox) who may be most well known for her association with baseball great Joe Dimaggio, her marriage to movie tycoon Matthew Fox until his death, her activism in the 1960s, and for taking the Miss America crown in 1950. While not exactly a British housewife with “island blood,” the publisher felt that this woman’s indomitable spirit strongly represented the fictional character of Charity.

Excerpt from her official Miss America bio: “Always courageous and sometimes controversial, Yolande has always been ahead of her time, tackling tough issues and making a stand before the issues at hand were fashionable.”

Born in 1929 to William and Ethel of Mobile, Alabama, Yolande was raised in a strict Catholic family with Basque origins and was educated in a convent school. In 1950 shortly after her twentieth birthday, Betbeze traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to compete in the Miss America pageant. Beyond her beauty and her operatic musical talent, Yolande handily took top honors for her scholarship, values, and leadership.

After winning the competition, she made no secret of her reluctance to don what she considered a very immodest swimsuit (tame by modern standards) and her refusal caused Catalina swimwear to withdraw their sponsorship from the pageant. To this day, the Miss America Organization claims that her actions were pivotal in directing the Miss America Pageant toward recognizing intellect, values, and leadership abilities, rather than focusing on beauty alone. From then on the Miss America pageant concentrated more on scholarship than beauty. Since there was no Miss America in 1950, Betbeze became the reigning Miss America in 1951.

After her year as Miss America, Yolande served as an ambassador to postwar Paris, France and was active in both the NAACP and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) upon her return to the United States. She never lost her love for opera, even appearing with the Mobile Opera Guild (the Mobile Opera today), and helped found an off-Broadway theater.

Read about Dorothy Ewing, code-named CHARITY, who was inspired by the amazing Dodo Barry, in Charity’s Code, FREE November 3-7 at this link.

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The Amazing Stories That Inspired Homeland’s Hope, Book 2 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story

cover_9781939603463_front_640WHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of my fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and the story was inspired by real events.

Today, Homeland’s Hope IS FREE. Yes! FREE. You can get it in ebook form at this link.

Here are the amazing stories that inspired the writing of Homeland’s Hope, Part 2 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story.

 

hope

jesse owensWhile the actual person Jesse Owens is mentioned more than once, the fictional character Virginia Benoit is inspired by the very real heroine Josephine Baker.

James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens was born on September 12, 1913 in Oakville, Alabama and passed away in Tuscan, Arizona on March 31, 1980 at the age of 66. According to his obituary which ran in the New York Times, during his lifetime, Jesse was recognized as “perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history.” His achievement of setting three world records and tying a fourth in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport,” and has never been equaled since.

It is well known that while competing at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, while then Chancellor Adolf Hitler looked on in disgust, Jesse Owens won international fame along with four Olympic Gold medals for the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and the 4 x100 meter relay. Jesse Owens was the most successful individual athlete at the games that year. His victory flew in the face of the Nazi’s stated supreme “master race” theories.

josephine-bakerJosephine Baker’s heroic actions during the second World War are less well known even to this day. Born into poverty in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906 as Freda Josephine McDonald, she would later be known to the world as Josephine Baker. Despite her dire circumstances as a child, she loved dancing and learned how by watching and mimicking the dancers at the famous Booker T. Washington Theater. At the age of 10, she won a dance competition and decided on the spot that she wanted to be a dancer when she grew up.

In 1917 she witnessed the St. Louis race riots and the “black exodus” that followed. A sea of people fleeing the murderous riot behind them as they crossed the St. Louis Bridge toward her was forever etched in her mind. What she saw in those days spurred her heart to spend much of her adult life confronting and fighting racism.

In 1925, after spending much of her career dancing in New York City, Josephine went to Paris to perform in La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Paris loved Josephine Baker, and she loved Paris. Soon, she was among the highest paid entertainers in France of any race, a stage and movie sensation. She came to be known in various circles as the “Black Pearl,” the “Bronze Venus” and even the “Creole Goddess.”
In 1928, Josephine went on a European tour and witnessed how racist much of Europe was becoming. Nazi run newspapers condemned her for performing on the same stage as “Aryan” performers, and some places even threw ammonia bombs at her. After that, Josephine rather correctly equated racism with Nazism.

In 1934, Josephine took the starring role in a French film, Zuzu, a great success in Paris. The name Zuzu comes from Zuzana, a Czech/Slovak form of Susana, but for whatever reason it stuck and Josephine’s close friends often called her Zuzu in private and in letters after the film’s release.

In 1936, the same year Jesse Owens won four Olympic gold medals in Berlin, Josephine returned to America to perform, but was treated with open racism and general hostility. She returned to France, heartbroken by the way her home country had treated her. When she returned to Paris, she married Jean Lion and became a French citizen.

On November 9, 1938, Nazis in Germany destroyed Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses in what is today called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). After that night, Josephine joined the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism.
An organization in France called Deuzieme Bureau was looking for undercover agents who could afford to work without pay and who could travel without suspicion. They approached Josephine and asked her to be an agent for them. Without hesitation, Josephine embraced the opportunity. After several weeks of training in weapons, self-defense, and memory, she was given her first mission: attending parties at the Italian embassy and reporting the information she overheard.

Her chateau, which was a large rural home in southern France she had named Les Milandes, became a stopping-point for Resistance workers, a safe house for refugees, and occasionally was used to store weapons. Eventually, the Germans grew suspicious and started watching her home, and she left. She traveled through Spain, Portugal, and North Africa, performing, attending parties, and listening. Just like the fictional Virginia Benoit, the real Josephine Baker used invisible ink and wrote what she saw and heard in the margins of her sheet music.

Josephine Baker2In June 1941, she became very ill and was hospitalized in Casablanca until December 1942. When she was finally released and strong enough to perform, she performed for the Allied troops, insisting that the audience, which was traditionally seated with white soldiers up front and black soldiers in the back, be desegregated before she performed.

After the war, Josephine received the Legion of Honour with the rosette of the Resistance, and became the first American born woman to receive the Croix de Guerre. These are two of France’s highest military honors.

When the war ended, Josephine returned to her chateau, Les Milandes. In 1947, she married again, this time to French orchestra leader Jo Bouillon. She adopted 12 children, all of different nationalities, which she referred to as her “rainbow tribe”. Her intent was to impress upon the outside world that people of different colors and ethnicities could live together as a family.

The “incident” with the radio personality which fictional characters Radden and Benoit stage is based on an actual event which occurred in New York’s Stork Club on the night of October 16, 1951. To set the record straight more than half a century later, by all accounts the radio personality, Walter Winchell, was utterly innocent of any wrong-doing. He was simply also present when the incident occurred. The blame for the mistreatment Josephine Baker suffered should have fallen squarely and fairly upon the shoulders of Stork Club owner, Sherman Billingsley. The problem was that no one had ever heard of Billingsley while absolutely every “Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea” knew the name of Walter Winchell in 1951.

Josephine continued to perform her own show at the Roxy to sold-out crowds throughout the remainder of the season, though the Stork Club incident continued to haunt her career in the United States from that day forward. Despite bad press, Baker took several trips back and forth to America in the 1950s and 1960s to help with the growing Civil Rights Movement.

On August 28, 1963, two separate parades were held for male and female civil rights leaders during the famous March on Washington. The men marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. The women—including Josephine Baker, Daisy Bates, and Rosa Parks—marched down Independence Avenue. When the groups met at the Mall, on the platform, Josephine stood right beside Martin Luther King, Jr., and was the only female speaker at the march, preceding the famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Reverend King.

cover_9781939603463_front_640Whenever she performed in America, she insisted on a nonsegregation clause in her contracts. Most places honored them, causing a desegregation in clubs that never would have happened otherwise. The NAACP eventually named May 20th “Josephine Baker Day” in honor of her lifelong efforts to end racism.

In 1973, Josephine performed at Carnegie Hall and was received with a standing ovation. Two years later, she performed at the Bobino Theater in Paris to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her Paris debut. Celebrities in attendance included Sophia Loren and Princess Grace of Monaco. Just days later, on April 12, 1975, Josephine Baker died in her sleep. She was 69 years old.

At her wake, an estimated 20,000 people lined the streets for her funeral procession. For her service during the war, Josephine Baker became the first American in history to receive full military honors in a French funeral.

Read about Virginia Benoit, code-named HOPE, who was inspired by the amazing Josephine Baker, in Homeland’s Hope, FREE November 2-6 on Amazon.

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The Amazing Stories That Inspired Temperance’s Trial, Book 1 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story

temperanceWHILE the story of the special team of operators I named The Virtues is entirely fictional, set in a fictional town, and comprised of fictional characters who form a fictional military division, every single one of my fictional heavenly heroines was inspired by a real World War II heroine and the story was inspired by real events.

Today, Temperance’s Trial IS FREE. Yes! FREE. You can get it in ebook form at this link.

Here are the amazing stories that inspired the writing of Temperance’s Trial, Part 1 of the Virtues and Valor Serialized Story.

01TitleTemperance

Pastor André Trocmé and his wife Magda
Pastor André Trocmé and his wife Magda

The hometown of fictional Marie Gilbert and her brother Edward, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, is an actual place and the great and honored reverend Pastor André Trocmé as well as Pastor Edouard Theis were actual people. These men of God inspired the entire town to smuggle uncounted Jewish children and their parents, possibly as many as five thousand or more, out of the country and to safety. Those children who could not be safely evacuated were taken in and “adopted” by families who informed the Nazis that the children were visiting relatives or war orphans.

When the Gestapo or the corrupt and collaborates Vichy police would raid the town, the citizens would routinely risk their lives by hiding children and parents anywhere they could and using elaborate schemes to signal when the coast was clear. Many residents were eventually arrested by the Gestapo. Sadly, the Reverand Trocmé’s own cousin, Daniel Trocmé, was sent to Maidanek concentration camp and tortured to death.

It may be significant to note that the townspeople received contributions from the Quakers, the Salvation Army, the American Congregational Church, as well as other Jewish and Christian ecumenical groups, the French Protestant student organization Cimade, and the Swiss Help to Children. All of these organizations helped to ensure that the Jewish refugees were housed and fed and could travel in relative safety to Switzerland or other safe havens.

In 1990, the entire town became the only French town and one of only two towns on earth to be recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” for their humanitarianism and bravery under extreme danger during the Second World War.

Didi NearneMarie Gilbert, code named Temperance, was inspired by the incredible Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne who served as a wireless operator in the Spiritualist Network in Occupied France under the code named “Rose.”

Like Temperance, Didi Nearne, her brother Francis, and her sister Jacqueline fled the Nazis as the German war machine rolled into France. They eventually made their way to Great Britain via Spain.

All three of the Nearnes entered service with the British Special Operations Executive, or SOE, which was called “Churchill’s secret army.” A group within the SOE was called the F Section Networks. These networks were established in France to transmit and receive coded messages just like Temperance does in Temperance’s Trial. Due to the ease of detection and the German’s determination to track down these operators, it was one of the most dangerous duties assigned to agents within the SOE.

While Didi’s sister, Jacqueline, was sent to France to act as a courier (much like Temperance’s friend, Prudence), Didi stayed in England as a signals operator and received the encoded messages coming from France. After some time, she volunteered to go to France and act as a wireless operator for the F Section.

On March 2, 1944, Didi became one of only 39 women to parachute into Occupied France. She used the aliases Mademoiselle du Tort, Jacqueline Duterte, and Alice Wood – and went by the code name “Rose”. She worked as part of Operation Mitchel, which organized finances for the resistance. During her first five months in France, she transmitted an astonishing 105 messages.

After many, many narrow escapes, including a time on a train when a Nazi soldier offered to carry the suitcase containing her wireless radio, Didi was finally arrested. While in Paris, she had sent a coded transmission from her room, much like my character Temperance. Within minutes, the Gestapo arrived and found her in possession of her wireless rig.

According to wartime records, Nearne “survived, in silence, the full revolting treatment of the baignoire” in the torture chamber of the Paris headquarters of the Gestapo on the banks of the Rue des Saussaies.

She nearly died from the torture. They beat her, stripped her, and repeatedly submerged her in a bath of ice cold water until she started to black out. Yet, she did not break. She stuck to her story of being an innocent French girl who had been duped into helping someone by sending messages she didn’t understand in return for money to buy eggs and bread.

She never once revealed her true identity. She never told of the other agents with whom she worked. Despite days of endless torture, she never gave up any information of planned operations.

At the time, Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne was only 23 years old.

On August 15, 1944, she was sent to the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin, and from there was sent through several forced labor camps. She refused to work in any of the camps, even under threat of being shot. Instead, she defied her captors to shoot her, and ended up being transferred each time instead.

Eventually, she ended up in a camp in Silesia. There Didi finally realized that the only way she would survive this experience would be to give in and work otherwise she would starve. During the bitter cold winter in December of 1944, the Nazis moved Didi to the Markleberg camp, near Leipzig, where she worked on a road-repair gang for 12 hours a day.

On April 13, 1945, while being transferred to yet another camp, along with two French girls from a work gang, Didi escaped. The trio evaded their pursuers by hiding in the forest. Astonishingly, they were apprehended by the SS in Markkleeberg, but she used her French language skills to fool her captors into letting them go. In Leipzig, a Catholic priest hid her until the arrival of the United States troops.

Jacqueline and Eileen "Didi" Nearne
Jacqueline and Eileen “Didi” Nearne — Photo Source the Guardian

Sadly, American intelligence officers initially identified her as a Nazi collaborator and held her at a detention center alongside captured SS personnel. Once London verified her identity as a secret agent, the Americans finally released her.

After the war, Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government, that nation’s highest award given to foreigners, and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by King George VI for services rendered in France during the enemy occupation.

Given what she underwent at the hands of her captors for years and years, her very survival is remarkable. When asked how she kept going, she replied, “The will to live. Willpower. That’s the most important. You should not let yourself go. It seemed that the end would never come, but I always believed in destiny, and I had a hope.”

Didi lived with her sister Jacqueline until her sister’s death in 1982. Afterward, she lived alone, a total recluse, haunted by her experiences as a captive of the Gestapo.

When Eileen Mary “Didi” Nearne died alone on September 2, 2010, it was several days before her death was discovered. It wasn’t until officials looking through her belongings hoping to find a relative whom they could contact that they discovered her true identity. Once they realized her incredible bravery and service, the entire community of Torbay, France, came together and gave her a funeral worthy of such an amazing war heroine with full military honors.

temperanceUnsurprisingly, there are very few actual photographs of Didi from the war and none of her operating a wireless rig. For the cover of this book, another suitable individual was selected. Pictured on the cover in place of “Temperance” and operating a wireless radio is none other than Mrs. Mac.

Mrs. Florence Violet McKenzie OBE (nee Wallace), aka “Mrs Mac” (1890-1982) was Australia’s first female electrical engineer, first female amateur radio operator, and the founder of the now international organization, the Electrical Association for Women. Mrs Mac is best known, however, for her work during the Second World War.

Having founded the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps in 1939, she then successfully campaigned to have some of her female trainees accepted into the Royal Australian Navy, thereby originating the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service. As the head instructor for the military, it is estimated that during the war some 12,000 servicemen from nearly every Allied nation passed through her Morse code training school in Australia.

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