skygiants: Katara from Avatar: the Last Airbender; text 'just kicked butt' (katara kicks butt)
[personal profile] skygiants
Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent is a compilation of oral history interviews with Pearl Witherington Cornioley, behind-the-lines SOE agent in France during WWII, packaged up into a YA nonfiction narrative.

Pearl's story is as fascinating as all the other stories about WWII female secret agents I've read, with the bonus that it's barely crushingly depressing at all! Pearl started out as a courier, posing as a traveling cosmetics saleswoman and working with an old school friend of hers who was running the SOE Stationer network -

(sidenote; she'd also been the one to recommend that her old school friend sign up for secret intelligence to begin with, and then was like 'yes now that I've set that up I'll pop on over to join his network now, thanks')

(sidenote 2; she'd also managed to somehow smuggle a secret message to her fiance Henri, a French soldier who had just escaped from German POW camp, and get him in contact with the Stationer network as well, so literally as soon as she parachuted in her boss was like "HEY WELCOME TO FRANCE HERE'S YOUR BOYFRIEND I'll just .... leave you two alone a bit")

- but eventually her boss was arrested by the Gestapo. Fortunately, Pearl had dragged several other members of the network out for a picnic that day, so they all escaped!

Then D-Day happened and Pearl was like "well, I guess it is now my job to be in charge of organizing all British supply drops and getting weapons and money to the French underground resistance, and no one else seems to be sabotaging the Germans around here, so ..... I guess that's what we're doing now?"

And that's how Pearl ended up being in charge of several thousand Maquis soldiers! With Henri playing support.

(There's a couple of Henri interviews in the back and they are mostly taken up with the story of how he rescued a baby bunny while retreating from the Germans and brought it along with him through numerous battles until they were about to be captured, at which point he was like 'FLY FREE, MY RABBIT FRIEND! SAVE YOURSELF!' "And that was the only life I saved during the war." BLESS.

There's also a very cute bit that the interviewers put in dialogue, because they also obviously found it super cute, where Pearl is like "ugh I get so mad when people say the men followed me because I was pretty" and Henri is like "BUT YOU WERE, YOU WERE SO PRETTY" and Pearl is like "I WAS NOT AND ALSO THAT'S NOT THE POINT.")

I have not yet managed to get my hands on Nancy Wake's autobiography, but I would love to compare/contrast -- they played very similar roles during the war in organizing Maquis during the liberation of France, but while Nancy Wake seems to have made no bones about being a very front-lines combatant (strangling soldiers with her bare hands, etc.) Pearl spends a lot of time in her account strongly disclaiming active heroism and emphasizing the logistics and support elements of her role. Could she have killed somebody herself if she had to? Well, gosh, she's so glad she never had to find out, that wasn't her job at all!

But I mean, Pearl also starts out early on in her narrative explaining that she is very conflict-averse and dislikes argument above all things, and then goes on to describe, in addition to extensive amounts of fighting with the Germans:

- fighting with the entire French government when it looked like they weren't going to give any of her Maquis any medals because they were technically working under the British rather than the French (ง'̀-'́)ง
- fighting with the entire English government when they tried to give her a civil Order of the British Empire rather than a military one because "there was nothing remotely 'civil' about what I did" (ง'̀-'́)ง
- fighting with the head of SOE after he accused a trusted French colleague of hers of being a double agent due to a misunderstanding and then failed to apologize -- "as Colonel Buckmaster is kind enough to visit me each time I come to Paris, can you ask him to alert me next time and I'll ask [the dude who was falsely accused] to come too?" (ง'̀-'́)ง (AND HER OLD BOSS NEVER VISITED HER AGAIN)
- fighting yet again with the English government when they wouldn't let her wear parachute wings, because she'd only jumped four times instead of five, "SO I JUST WORE THEM ANYWAY" (ง'̀-'́)ง (the editor is like 'we don't know where or how she got a pair to wear? but apparently she did?')

What I'm saying is I take Pearl's description of her own retiring conflict-averse shyness with a grain of salt.

Date: 2017-09-11 01:09 am (UTC)
affreca: Cat Under Blankets (Default)
From: [personal profile] affreca
May we all have the strength to be conflict averse in that way.

Date: 2017-09-11 03:25 am (UTC)
umadoshi: (Kittenbus friends w/cats (theidolhands))
From: [personal profile] umadoshi
it's barely crushingly depressing at all!

*boggles* Is that even allowed?!

at which point he was like 'FLY FREE, MY RABBIT FRIEND! SAVE YOURSELF!'

Awww! ^_^ I do like bunny-rescuing guys and BADASS LADIES.

Date: 2017-09-11 03:50 am (UTC)
lacewood: (books books books)
From: [personal profile] lacewood
This sounds amazing. Given the horror stories I've heard about female agents in France, it's good to know that Pearl's story is not one of the depressing ones. (I am so sad that Nancy Wake's autobiography is out of print btw. REPRINT IT IMMEDIATELY, UNIVERSE)

Also, for someone so "conflict averse", I note that her book blurb calls her "the best shot, male or female, we have". HMMMM. You do you, girl (ง'̀-'́)ง

Date: 2017-09-11 04:43 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
PEARL. WOW.

(also omg, bunny rescue)

Date: 2017-09-11 06:57 am (UTC)
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Pearl's story is as fascinating as all the other stories about WWII female secret agents I've read, with the bonus that it's barely crushingly depressing at all!

Mazel tov!

I am sorry to ask, but you are either using an emoticon I don't recognize or my browser isn't rendering an emoji properly. What is (ง'̀-'́)ง ?

Date: 2017-09-11 12:51 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Whatever it is, I'm seeing the same.

I've possibly mentioned her before, but WRT non-depressing SOE exploits, there's apparently a biography of Virginia Hall, The Wolves at the Door, which I really must read at some point. Resigned her job at the U.S. Embassy in London to become a very successful SOE agent in Vichy. Hiked out over the Pyrenees with the Gestapo desperate to find her. Ran safe houses in Madrid for SOE before retraining as a radio-operator. Refused to accept an honorary MBE from the King as she was still operational. Transferred to OSS when SOE wouldn't send her back to France. Successfully organised the Resistance in her area. Fell in love with another agent when he parachuted in. Accepted the local German surrender. Was in Switzerland ready to cross the border into Germany when her mission was cancelled. Only civilian woman to win the DSC in WWII, which she refused to accept from Truman as she was still operational. Then joined the CIA.

And all while an amputee.

Date: 2017-09-11 06:29 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Sovay: David Owen)
From: [personal profile] sovay
there's apparently a biography of Virginia Hall, The Wolves at the Door, which I really must read at some point.

I've heard of her, but I didn't realize there was a biography rather than a lot of anecdotes floating through other books about SOE! I will have to track that down.

And all while an amputee.

She named her prosthetic "Cuthbert," leading to the story with which I first heard of her: how she cabled SOE from occupied France with the progress report "Cuthbert is giving me trouble, but I can cope," only to receive the gloriously clueless reply that if Cuthbert was giving her trouble, she had SOE's permission to eliminate him.

Date: 2017-09-11 06:40 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Her Amazon article has details on the biography, plus a bunch of other stuff.

Date: 2017-09-12 02:07 am (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)
From: [personal profile] sovay
There's also a film about her scheduled, I think, which I am very excited for -- both that and the one about Juan Pujol, Agent Garbo.

I had heard about the one about Pujol, but not about the one about Hall! They should double-feature.

Date: 2017-09-11 06:43 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Oh, I just figured out the emoticon -- picture an M&M with raised fists.

Date: 2017-09-11 06:44 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Psholtii: in a bad mood)
From: [personal profile] sovay
Oh, I just figured out the emoticon -- picture an M&M with raised fists.

I am really not designed for this mode of communication.

Date: 2017-09-11 11:26 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
....I hear you there.

Date: 2017-09-11 01:54 pm (UTC)
watersword: Keira Knightley, in Pride and Prejudice (2007), turning her head away from the viewer, the word "elizabeth" written near (Default)
From: [personal profile] watersword
I ... I need this book in my eyeballs immediately.

Date: 2017-09-11 04:10 pm (UTC)
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)
From: [personal profile] larryhammer
This sounds awesomesauce. And my library has it!

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