From The VG Bookshelf: “Code Name: Lise”
From The VG Bookshelf: “Code Name: Lise”
While Third Wave Feminists are screeching about empowering women and the horrible patriarchy of the twenty-first century, there have always been women who have plowed their way through every obstacle. Late last year, I read and reviewed “The Wolves At The Door”. Virginia Hall was America’s greatest female World War II spy. This week, I bring to you “Code Name: Lise, The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy”. This book has everything war, romance, friendship, betrayal and the horrors of the Nazis.
The stories of Virginia Hall and Odette Sansom/Lise are similar in that they both overcame physical issues to ply their tradecraft. Virginia Hall lost her leg at age 27. Odette Sansome was born in France and as a child suffered from Polio and Rheumatic Fever. For several years, she was blind. Did these physical disabilities give these women more grit? Maybe. For these two women to join the hundreds of other women who worked to defeat the Nazis they had to have some special internal wherewithal.
Odette was born in France and lost her father at Verdun in World War I. After her father’s death her grandfather told her that when the time came that she was to do her duty. Fascinated by the British, Odette married Briton Roy Sansom, a family friend, right after her nineteenth birthday and proceeded to give birth to three girls. By the time Roy left to fight in World War II, the marriage was cold.
The story of how Odette came to the attention of the British War Office, survived special operations training and three plane mishaps to finally become a courier for the SPINDLE network of the Special Operations Executive, French section is amazing. I cannot even imagine learning to kill with my hands or memorize at a glance vast reams of information. Odette/Lise did, as did Virginia Hall and all of the other courageous spies.
Immediately upon arriving in France, Odette/Lise and her superior Peter Churchill get an itch for each other. Peter Churchill was not really related to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, but the name came in handy later. Lise and Churchill along with their radio operator, Arnaud, were a powerful triad.
It is once Lise and Peter are captured and turned over to the Gestapo that this biography really starts to touch emotions. Churchill was educated at Cambridge and considered himself an atheist until his death seemed likely. He suffered bouts of depression in captivity until he began praying and then met priest Father Paul. Father Paul would act as a go between and ray of light for both Churchill and Lise.
Lise and Peter told the Gestapo that they were married and Lise led them to believe that Peter was the nephew of Winston Churchill. She also told her interrogators that she was the brains behind the operation. The Nazis believed that and so do I. Peter Churchill may have been smart, charming and good looking, but he comes off quite weak. Time and time again, Lise saves his hide while he dithers and is conflicted.
After having a burning iron applied to her back and all of her toenails pulled out with pliers, Lise is condemned to death. She is moved to Germany and the to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. From page 204:
Days went by and nothing changed. This was life in the bunker–coffee, soup, and five minutes of artificial light a day. It was a black hole, this cell. Like the space-time phenomena, it absorbed everything–time, individuality, hope, sanity.
All except sound.
Odette’s cell was next to the “punishment room” and she heard everything. Originally used for beatings about the head, the room adopted a formal procedure in 1942 when Heinrich Himmler ordered more brutal tactics–caning or whipping.
That’s the nicest section I can put in this post. Later in her captivity, her cell is by the crematorium and the air she breathes is filled with the ashes and hair of her fellow captives. This is followed by witnessing other inmates’ cannibalism.
Odette/Lise and Peter survive and, after her divorce, they are married. The marriage did not last. I think that Odette was too much woman for the weak Peter Churchill. She married her third husband within months of her divorce. She was a tough and restless woman. Check out this video interview with Odette from 1980.
That’s one tough and admirable woman. The British King, George VI, awarded Odette the George Cross.
The author of “Code Name: Lise”, Larry Loftus meticulously researched this book. There are 67 pages of notes and bibliography. There are a few bits of florid prose, but what a great book. I highly recommend this book. We cannot possibly have enough books that remind us of the terrible atrocities of the Nazi regime and of the strong men and women who defeated them.
Feature Photo Composite: Darleen Click for Victory Girls