Romance was one thing, but it was danger that really seemed to ring Christine's bell.
She was astonishingly courageous and resourceful. She cut her teeth as a spy infiltrating Poland from Hungary over the Carpathians on skis. When forced to cool her heels in Cairo Mulley reports the probably apocryphal story that the HQ of the SOE in Cairo was so ill-concealed that taxi-drivers all knew it as "Secret House" and street vendors outside shouted "Chocolates!
Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville
She parachuted into occupied France. She single-handedly persuaded a whole garrison of Polish conscripts into the Wehrmacht, on a key Alpine pass, to surrender to the Allies. And she effected — again, single handedly — a breathtakingly brave 11th-hour rescue of two comrades from the Gestapo HQ where they were due to be executed. She was erroneously, but plausibly, said to have been the model for Ian Fleming's Vesper Lynd.
The backdrop to this story of ripping yarns and ripping stockings, Mulley now and again reminds us, is grindingly horrific, though. Nobody's war was much fun, but Poland's was particularly foul: betrayed by Britain, raped by Hitler, carved up by Stalin and Roosevelt. In the poignant words of one Polish radio transmission sent just after the fall of Warsaw: "Absolutely everyone has lost absolutely everything.
Only in the last case can there be the hint of a Boys' Own spin. Responding to conspiracy theories, a senior British spook wrote pertly to the Times: "Sir, if General Sikorski had been murdered, I would have had to do it. I didn't.
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Yours etc, Patrick Howarth. There's a line of personal disgrace here, too.
Britain's behaviour towards Poland during the war was shameful, and its behaviour to Christine afterwards was in the same vein. Dumped from the post-war SOE "cannot type, has no experience whatever of office work and is altogether not a very easy person to employ" , short-changed on honours, forced to petition pathetically for British nationality against an obdurate and sexist bureaucracy, Christine was reduced to making ends meet by getting work as a telephone operator, sales assistant, linen-cupboard attendant at a hotel, and stewardess on a shipping line.
The latter job was, finally, what did for her. This amazing woman was stabbed to death in the lobby of a South Kensington hotel by a merchant seaman she'd had an affair with and then rejected. The wretched man's last words before he was hanged were: "To kill is the final possession.
The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville
And how's this for the spy's toolkit: As "Jacqueline Armand", code-name "Pauline", Christine had been issued a rubber-lined crash-helmet, loaded revolver, razor-edged commando knife, torch, and a round, brown, rubber-coated cyanide tablet sewn into the hem of her skirt. Topics Books. Biography books Espionage reviews.
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The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley
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A Jew, a Woman and Churchill's Favorite Spy: Christine Granville, Flesh-and-blood Hero
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