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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.