NAME: Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell Szabo, GC, MBE

ALIASES: Louise, La P’tite Anglaise

DOB: 26 June 1921 (Paris, France) – 5 February, 1945 (Ravensbrűck concentration camp, Germany, at age 23)

OCCUPATION: British secret agent during the Second World War

SERVICE/BRANCH: Special Operations Executive First Aid Nursing Yeomanry

LANGUAGES: French, English


YEARS OF SERVICE:

  • 1941 – 1945 the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in Britain (FANY)
  • 1942 – 1945 the British Special Operations Executive (SOE)

AWARDS: George Cross from Great Britain, Croix de Guerre from France, Member of the Order of the British Empire

EARLY LIFE:

Maiden name: Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell

Family: French mother and British father who was a taxi-driver

Childhood:

  • Born in France but grew up in London
  • Attended school in Brixton until the age of 14
  • At the start of WWII she began working in the Bon Marche department store in Brixton
  • London, 1940: She met Etienne Szabo, a French officer of Hungarian descent at the Bastille Day parade in London
  • August 1940: Violette (19) married Etienne (31) after a 42-day romance
  • Shortly after getting married Etienne was sent to fight in Northern Africa
  • 1941: Violette joins the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS)
  • October 1942: Violette borns their only child, Tania
  • October 1942: Etienne died from chest wounds at the Battle of El Almein. He had never seen his daughter.
  • 1942: Violette joins the British Special Operations Executive (SOE)

SKILLS / TRAINING:

  • Training at night and daylight navigation
  • Escape and evasion
  • Both allied and German weapons
  • Unarmed combat
  • Demolitions
  • Explosives
  • Communications and cryptography
  • Parachute training
  • Fluent in French and English

 

SPY IN ACTION:

First Mission

  • Violette was deployed into the field in April 5, 1944 into German-occupied France, near Cherbourg
  • Code name: Louise
  • Violette reorganized a French Resistance network that had been smashed by Germans
  • Led a new group in sabotaging roads and railway bridges
  • Produced multiple wireless reports to SOE headquarters of the local factories producing war materials
  • Assisted in establishing Allied bombing targets
  • Returned to England after intensive 25 days, on April 30, 1944. Her first mission was a great success.

Second Mission / Capture

  • Violette returned to the Limoges region of France June 7, 1944 with the mission to disrupt communications lines of the Germans
  • Immediately upon arrival she coordinated the activities of the local Maquis (led by Jacques Dufour)
  • Assisted 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 during a road block of the Das Reich Division
  • After a brief gun battle Her Maquis escaped in the confusion
  • Around midday on June 10, 1944 Violette was captured when she ran out of ammunition, near Salon-la-Tour

Interrogation /Torture

  • Violette was transferred to the custody of the SD in Limoges
  • She was interrogated for four days
  • Violette endured obscene amounts of torture in effort to be forced to reveal her comrades, which she never did
  • She was moved to Fresnes Prison in Paris and brought to Gestapo headquarters at 84 Avenue Foch for more interrogation and torture
  • SOE attempted to rescue Violette but missed her short of 2 hours
  • August, 1944: Violette was moved to Ravensbruch concentration camp
  • At the camp she endured hard labor and malnutrition
  • She managed to help save the life of Belgian resistance courier Hortense Clews

Violette Szabo was executed on Februry 5, 1945 at the concentration camp by a shot in the back of the neck alongside two other female agents. Her body was disposed of in the crematorium. She was 23-years-old British spy.

Of the SOE’s 55 female agents, 13 were killed in action or died in Nazi concentration camps. Denise Bloch, Cecily Lefort and Lilian Rolfe were also executed at Ravensbruck.

In 1946, Tania Szabo, Violette and Etienne Szabi’s surviving daughter received the George Cross, awarded to her mother posthumously from Great Britain. Violette Szabi was the only the second woman to have received the honor. In 1950 Tania also received the Croix de Guerre from France on behalf of her mother. Visit Violett Szabo museum here.

One Response to “Violette Szabo”

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