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As part of the Museum Secrets programme for the History

by Rob_Boyter / May 18, 2014 1:11 AM PDT

Channel, a series made here in Toronto incidentally, I caught the story of Odette Sansom (as she was then) a Frenchwoman who married an Englishman in 1931, and lived there.

During the War in response to a request for photographs taken on holiday on the French Coast, she replied to the War Department rather than to the proper address, and was selected for training with the Special Operations Executive, i.e. spies and saboteurs to be parachuted into France and other countries partly to coordinate local resistance and to communicate with London. Her nominal attachment to the British Forces was as a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, traditionally known as FANYs, which is not the same word in England that it is in the US. In England it is the female naughty bits, not the buttocks. Tell people there that you wear a Fannie pack and they're apt to ask, "But how can you walk?"

A significant part of her training took place at Camp X here in Ontario, about 50 miles East of Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario. This was the primary training ground for British agents going behind enemy lines. Sadly it hasn't been maintained and has disappeared though much of the equipment salvaged is still being kept safe.

Ms Sansom, or Lise as her code name then was worked for the best part of a year in France before being betrayed to the SS counter intelligence branch, the Sicherheitsdienst. (Security Bureau).
She survived her imprisonment and torture, much of it with a red hot poker applied to her back and elsewhere.

She became the first woman to be awarded Britain's highest medal for gallantry for civilians, the George Cross.

" She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and was the first of three Second World War FANY members to be awarded the George Cross (gazetted 20 August 1946).[7] She remains the only woman to have received the George Cross whilst alive, all other female GC awards to date being posthumous. She was also appointed a Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur for her work with the French resistance.[8] In later life her mother's home was burgled and Odette's GC was stolen. After a public appeal it was returned with a note saying:

" You, Madame, appear to be a dear old lady. God bless you and your children. I thank you for having faith in me. I am not all that bad - it's just circumstances. Your little dog really loves me. I gave him a nice pat and left him a piece of meat - out of fridge.
Sincerely yours, A Bad Egg."

It might be well to consider this story when thinking of those who commit criminal acts.

Her ability to resist torture may have arisen from her childhood bout with Polio, which left her blind for a year, and having to learn to walk and use her arms and hands all over again over another two or more years. In the programme she was quoted as saying "When they were torturing me, (at Fresnes Prison outside Paris) they made the mistake of facing me toward an open window. I would just will myself out that window and into the garden, and whatever happened to my body was of no account."

The SOE thought she might not be a good agent because she was "emotional, and tended to act on impulse" if that isn't a definition of a patriot and a risk taker, I don't know what is.

Rob

Wikipedia entry for Odette Sansom, Churchill or Hallowes will get you to her bio. I knew very slightly a man who knew her second husband Peter Churchill and was in various Concentration Camps with him.

She herself somehow survived the death sentence she received in 1943, and the worst of Ravensbruck women's Concentration Camp. Her association with Peter Churchill (they claimed to be husband and wife) and the pretense that Peter Churchill was related to Winston may have saved both their lives, though only by a hair's breadth.

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