The year 1941 was a hard time for Britain and its European allies whose cities were being bombed by the Nazis. So, while Britain was vulnerable, Winston Churchill created the Special Operations Executive (SOE) that was housed on Baker Street in central London.
The SOE, also known as "Churchill's Secret Army" was intended to be a sort of underground army. This secret war, in enemy-occupied Europe and Asia, was maintained by its agents - brave and intelligent men with incredible resourcefulness.
However, the SOE broke gender norms and started recruiting women for spying. The decision was taken by considering historical female characters who easily learned to be inconspicuous and knew how to wisely use their charms as a weapon.
About 40 women were deployed by the British secret agency. By 1941, the SOE had prepared its first female spies; among them was Virginia Hall, who became the most successful, and thus the most dangerous, spy during WWII.
The spy story of Virginia Hall apparently started in Spain where, by chance, she met George Bellows, a British intelligence officer. It is thought Bellows was impressed with the young lady with a limp, and after a short conversation, he gave her the telephone number of a "friend" who might be able to help her in finding a job in England. That "friend" was Nicolas Bodington, who already worked for the SOE. According to other sources, however, Virginia Hall was recruited in London by Vera Atkins.
In spring of 1941, Virginia Hall joined the SOE. During training, the American showed her impressive ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties. Later, she was sent to Vichy France (an independent ally of Nazi Germany) under a fake name. Virginia Hall forged papers and posed as an American reporter with the New York Post. She gleaned information useful to military planners.
Virginia Hall was considered a natural spy. The woman was almost always able to keep one step ahead of the German secret police. Additionally, she was creative and skilful at decoding hidden messages inserted in the BBC news. In occupied France, Virginia Hall conducted sabotage and jailbreaks. Once she helped downed British pilots escape, organising French women to escort them to safety.
Towards the end of 1942, Virginia Hall was betrayed, and identified by the Gestapo as the most dangerous of Allied spies. However, the British secret agent managed to escape the Nazis. Despite her limp, she walked over a 7,500-foot pass in the snowy Pyrenees to Spain, covering up to 50 miles over two days in considerable discomfort.
When Virginia arrived in Franco's Spain, she was immediately arrested for crossing the border illegally and sent to the Mirando del Ebro camp, which was used to detain non-Spanish nationals who were trying to escape occupied Europe to Gibraltar or Portugal via Spain. The country remained neutral in WWII, but Franco sympathised with Hitler.
Apparently, Hall had secret information for London and had a Spanish prostitute smuggle it out. Soon she was released thanks to persistent British diplomatic pressure and reached Great Britain safely.
Virginia Hall was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1943. The following year, Hall returned to France, where she was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. Later, the Americans decorated her with the Distinguished Service Cross.
When the CIA was formed in the USA, Hall worked with them until her retirement in 1966. On 8 July 1982, one of the best female spies died.
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