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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Non-Fiction Spy Thriller of World War II

A Cool and Lonely Courage: The Untold Story of Sister Spies in Occupied FranceA Cool and Lonely Courage: The Untold Story of Sister Spies in Occupied France by Susan Ottaway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is not so much the style of writing that earned five stars from me but rather the subjects of the story. Don't be deceived by that sentence into thinking the style of writing is boring, it is not. Rather it is understated as the lives of these two remarkable women were. Born in England, these sisters and their two brothers moved to France with their parents prior to the outbreak of World War II. Except for the oldest child, their brother, Frederick, the three younger children for all practical purposes were French. They spoke both French and English, their father being English and never having become fluent in French. Their memories of living in England were vague, yet when France was overrun by the Nazis and divided into Nazi held northern France and the Nazi sympathetic Vichy France, the girls began to think that their only way of helping defeat Germany and free France was to return to England and attempt to find work that would allow them that opportunity.

Both in their 20's, the younger girl, Didi, just 20, they managed after two aborted tries to reach London. Jacqueline, the older of the two obtained work with the SOE, a British government organization that smuggled British agents into France to work with the Resistance in preparing for the Allied assault to come. She was trained and sworn to secrecy as she was airlifted into France and dropped by parachute to begin a 16 month tour as a courier. Meanwhile, Didi, who did not know what the job entailed tried to get hired by the SOE as well and eventually successful was airlifted into France where she began her work as a wireless telegrapher. She eventually was discovered in Paris, by the Nazis and was arrested.

The story begins at Didi's death in an English coastal town, where she is known as an elderly recluse. She is discovered in her apartment several days after dying of an apparent heart attack. Nothing is known of her prior life and the town is about to give her a simple burial until the police, while going through her belongings, discover letters, official documents and war time medals that lead to her niece in Italy who is able to reveal the heroic exploits of her Aunt Didi and, also, her Aunt Jacqueline.

The revelations of the lives these women and others lived and the way they served the war effort is a mesmerizing tale, which stays with the reader long after the tale has been told. A wonderful book which reveals that in war time it is not only the uniformed armed man who serves, but in many cases secretive men and women providing the information and support the soldier needs to succeed.

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