STARRED REVIEW
May 2019

D-Day Girls

By Sarah Rose

To be a successful female spy, a woman needs to be outwardly ordinary, a human chameleon who can hide in plain view. She must also have brains, courage and obstinacy. An ability to react quickly to unpleasant surprises—such as concealing incriminating evidence during a Gestapo arrest—is a plus. And the capacity to withstand torture without divulging any information about your spy ring is also desirable. These are the women of D-Day Girls, Sarah Rose’s gripping account of a generation of heroes.

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Admit it. When you hear “female spy,” you see images of Mata Hari beguiling her hapless victims into confiding secret enemy plans. But beauty so fatally powerful can easily transform from a spy’s best weapon into her greatest liability.

Instead, to be a successful female spy, a woman needs to be outwardly ordinary, a human chameleon who can hide in plain view. She must also have brains, courage and obstinacy. An ability to react quickly to unpleasant surprises—such as concealing incriminating evidence during a Gestapo arrest—is a plus. And the capacity to withstand torture without divulging any information about your spy ring is also desirable. These are the women of D-Day Girls, Sarah Rose’s gripping account of a generation of heroes.

In 1942, the Special Operations Executive, established by Winston Churchill to organize sabotage in German territory, decided to train women to operate behind enemy lines. This decision was not the result of early feminist principles but was instead born out of necessity, since men were rare commodities in wartime. It wasn’t a popular decision either: Colonel Maurice Buckmaster had to sell his idea directly to Churchill before he could get permission to implement it. But the accomplishments of these extraordinary “ordinary” women outweighed any skepticism. They organized, trained and armed thousands of resistance fighters who, on and after D-Day, were able to divert German attention away from the beaches in Normandy.

But their story is also marked by sadness and tragedy. Betrayed by the incompetence and arrogance of their commanders and fellow agents, scores of these women died under hideous circumstances. Others survived but were scarred. 

Their deeds may have been forgotten and their names obscured, but with her book, Rose has resurrected them, so that Odette Sansom, Andrée Borrel, Lise de Baissac and their sisters in arms will be remembered and honored.

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D-Day Girls

D-Day Girls

By Sarah Rose
Crown
ISBN 9780451495082

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