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The Heroines of SOE: F Section, Britain's Secret Women in France Hardcover – 4 Oct 2010
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About the Author
Beryl Escott served for 26 years as a WRAF officer, after completing her degree and working as a teacher. She is now a prolific writer and historian, her books include "Our Wartime Days."
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There were far fewer women than men employed by SOE and mostly as radio operators or couriers; a few rose to lead a Group of agents. Most had some familial or marital connection with France and a good command of the language. A knowledge of the country's geography and customs would be useful as was the ability not to draw undue attention to their presence. Essentially, they had to merge into the background and not all achieved it.
All agents, regardless of gender, would receive similar training which would include use of several weapons, self defense, radio technique, coding and decoding and, almost always, parachute training as most were to be dropped. Some may also receive sabotage training. Although some of the SOE men had been seconded from a military unit, all of the women were civilians although they may as a pretext be given a uniformed military rank either in FANY (nursing) or as a WAAF or WAAC (mostly as ambulance drivers).
Women were considered better for some roles than were men. They may be better able to detract undue German attention by a smile or use of their guile and there were places where women were thought to be less obvious or cause for suspicion. A job in a dress shop, hairdresser, beautician or something of that nature could be a good cover.
It is an unfortunate fact of history that, in the event of capture, a female agent would be treated as severely as would a male and their fate could be the same. Consequently, several female agents were killed in the field at their radio or in action and several more in concentration camps. The stories of Odette Sansom and Violette Szabo are probably two of the best known from this group; Odette survived the war but Violette did not.
"The Heroines of SOE: F Section: Britain's Secret Women in France" by Squadron Leader Beryl E. Escott is the story of those women. Although Canadian by birth, she joined the WAAF in 1961 and rose through its ranks. She has written several books, specifically about the WAAF and through its sideways association, in this instance, also SOE. Unfortunately, she is not that good a writer and may not provide the best opportunity that her subject deserves.
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