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Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell Szabo, GC, MBE, (26 June, 1921 ‚Äď c. 5 February, 1945) was a World War II Allied secret agent.

Early life and marriage

She was born Violette Bushell in Paris, Francemarker to a Frenchmarker mother and an Englishmarker taxi-driver father. The family moved to London and she attended school in Brixtonmarker until the age of 14. At the start of World War II, she was working in Bon Marché department store on the perfume counter.

Violette met Etienne Szabo, a French officer of Hungarian descent, at the Bastille Day parade in London in 1940. They married after a whirlwind 42-day romance. Violette was 19, Etienne was 31. Shortly after the birth of their only child, Tania, Etienne died from chest wounds at the Battle of El Alameinmarker in October 1942. He had never seen his daughter. It was Etienne's death that made Violette, having already joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1941, decide to offer her services to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Allied spy

Training and first mission

After an assessment for fluency in the French language and a series of interviews, she was inducted into Special Operations Executive. She received intensive training in night and daylight navigation, escape and evasion, both Allied and German weapons, unarmed combat, demolitions, explosives, communications and cryptography. A minor accident during parachute training delayed her deployment into the field until 5 April 1944, when she was parachuted into German-occupied France, near Cherbourgmarker.

Code-named "Louise", she reorganized a French resistance network that had been smashed by the Germans. She led the new group in sabotaging road and rail bridges. Her wireless reports to SOE headquarters on the local factories producing war materials for the Germans were extremely important in establishing Allied bombing targets. She returned to England by Lysander on 30 April, 1944, after an intense but successful first mission.

Second mission

She flew back to Limogesmarker, France on 7 June, 1944 (immediately following D-Day) from RAF Tempsfordmarker. Immediately on arrival, she coordinated the activities of the local Maquis (led by Jacques Dufour) in sabotaging communication lines during German attempts to stem the Normandy landings.

She was a passenger in a car that raised the suspicions of German troops at an unexpected roadblock that had been set up to find Sturmbannf√ľhrer Helmut K√§mpfe of the Das Reich Division, who had been captured by the local resistance.

A brief gun battle ensued. Her Maquis minders escaped unscathed in the confusion. However, Szabo was captured when she ran out of ammunition, around mid-day on 10 June, 1944, near Salon-la-Tourmarker. Her captors were most likely from the 1st Battalion of the Deutschland Regiment. In R. J. Minney's biography, she is described as putting up fierce resistance with her Sten gun. German documents of the incident record no German injuries or casualties.

Interrogation, torture, and execution

She was transferred to the custody of the SDmarker in Limogesmarker, where she was interrogated for four days. From there, she was moved to Fresnes Prisonmarker in Paris, and brought to Gestapo headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch for interrogation and torture. In August 1944 she was moved to Ravensbr√ľck concentration campmarker, where over 92,000 women died. There, she endured hard labour and malnutrition.

Violette Szabo was executed on or about 5 February, 1945 and her body disposed of in the crematorium. She was 23 years old.

Three other women members of the SOE were also executed at Ravensbr√ľck: Denise Bloch, Cecily Lefort, and Lilian Rolfe. Of the SOE's 55 female agents, 13 were killed in action or died in Nazi concentration camps.

Awards and honours

Szabo was the second woman to be awarded the George Cross, bestowed posthumously on 17 December, 1946. The citation was published in the London Gazette and read:

The Croix de Guerre was awarded by the French government in 1947 and the Médaille de la Résistance in 1973. As one of the SOE agents who died for the liberation of France, Ensign Szabo is listed on the "Roll of Honor" on the Valençay SOE Memorialmarker in the town of Valençaymarker, in the Indremarker département.

Museums and memorials

The Violette Szabo GC Museum is located in the cottage in Wormelow Tumpmarker, Herefordshiremarker, that Violette's English cousins formerly owned, and that Violette would visit before the war to enjoy walks in the surrounding hills. She also stayed at the farm while she was recuperating from her ankle injury and between her two missions to France. Tania Szabo attended the museum's opening in 2000, as did Virginia McKenna, Leo Marks and members of SOE.

The Jersey War Tunnelsmarker has a permanent exhibition room dedicated to Violette Szabo.

The Royal College of Musicmarker offers an annual award called the Violette Szabo GC Memorial Prize for pianists who accompany singers. The current holder is James Southall.

There is a mural dedicated to Violette Szabo in Stockwellmarker, South London, painted in 2001: Stockwell War Memorial, Stockwell Road. Painted on the exterior of the entrance to a deep level shelter, this mural was executed by Brian Barnes (with the assistance of children from Stockwell Park School). It features Stockwell's famous people such as Violette Szabo and Vincent Van Gogh. It also commemorates the local people who gave their life in the war. This mural was listed in Time Out as one of London's top ten murals.

In 2008, a bronze bust of Szabo by sculptor Karen Newman was unveiled at the Albert Embankmentmarker of the River Thames, opposite Lambeth Palacemarker.

Book

Her daughter, Tania Szabo, wrote an exhaustive and careful reconstruction of her two missions in 1944 into the then most dangerous areas in France with flashbacks to her growing up. Author Jack Higgins wrote the foreword and US-French radio-operator, Jean-Claude Guiet, who had accompanied her on the mission in the Limousinmarker, wrote the introduction. On 15 November 2007, at the launch of the book, Young Brave and Beautiful, at The Jersey War Tunnelsmarker, the Lieutenant Governor of Jersey said of her, "She's an inspiration to those young people today doing the same work with the risk of the same dangers". Odette Churchill GC said, "She was the bravest of us all."

In popular culture

Her wartime activities in German Occupied France were also dramatised in the film Carve Her Name with Pride, starring Virginia McKenna and based on the 1956 book of the same name by R. J. Minney. During her time as an agent in the SOE, she met Leo Marks, codes officer of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), who gave her what is now thought of as the definitive World War II poem code, The Life That I Have.

References

  • Szab√≥, Tania (2007) Young Brave and Beautiful: the Missions of Special Operations Executive Agent, Lieutenant Violette Szab√≥, George Cross, Croix de Guerre avec Etoile de bronze, St Helier: distributed by Jersey War Tunnels, ISBN 1-905095-20-1. 496 pp, index, bibliography, plus 30 pages of illustrations.
  • Minney, R. J. (1956) Carve her Name with Pride: the Story of Violette Szabo. London: Newnes
  • Ottaway, Susan (2003) Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have. Pen & Sword Books ISBN 0-85052-976-X


Notes

  1. R.J.Minney, Carve Her Name With Pride, 1956, pp149-158. ISBN 0862205212
  2. George Cross facts
  3. The Violette Szabo GC Museum
  4. Opening of the Violette Szabo museum
  5. Unveiling of the Violette Szabo mural at Stockwell
  6. Violett Szabo scultpure


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