Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In Memoriam: Odette Sansom

Many of the greatest heroes of World War II served in the French Resistance; still reeling from the massive losses it suffered during World War I, France had neither the manpower nor the will to fight off the Germans yet again, less than a generation after their previous onslaught. Also, given the improvements in aviation, Paris would have certainly been struck as hard as both London and Berlin - an unthinkable brutality. Nevertheless, despite their capitulation to Nazi rule French opposition to Hitler's onslaught was as vigourous as it was effective...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1912, Odette Sansom was just one of those heroes; married and living in England at the outset of hostilities, she trained under Colonel Maurice Buckmaster as part of the Special Operations Executive. Operating in the south of France with her supervisor (and future husband) Peter Churchill, she supplied him with funds and worked as a radio operator under the alias Lise.

They were betrayed by a double agent named Hugo Bleicher in April 1942; tortured by the Gestapo at Fresnes prison near Paris, she stuck to her cover story that she was married to Peter Churchill and that he was Winston Churchill's nephew (which he was not). Condemned to death in June 1943 she was sent to Ravensbrück, but survived the concentration camp and later testified at a war crimes tribunal against the guards there.

In addition to being the only woman to have received Britain's George Cross while alive, Sansom was also made an MBE and a chevalier in the French Légion d'honneur. The 1950 film Odette, in which Sansom was played by Anna Neagle, dramatized her wartime activities; Sansom died in March 1995, aged 82.
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