Book Review: A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War Two by Sonia Purnell
“Virginia Hall was not to be measured by normal standards.” She was an agent, [Philippe de Vomecourt of the French Resistance] conceded, who had already done “many things considered improbably, if not impossible.”
Why isn’t this a movie? Virginia Hall had as much to do with the liberation of France in 1944 as the names you read in history books. This extraordinary American persisted despite the danger, not to mention bureaucratic and chauvinist rejections, to organize and execute a huge portion of the resistance in Vichy France with spill over into the German-controlled regions.
“Her amazing personality, integrity and enthusiasm were an example for us all,” [senior F Section agent Gerry Morel] reported. “No task was too great or too small for her; and whatever she undertook she put into it all her energy, sparing herself nothing.”
Well-researched and written. Purnell seeks primary sources and manages to uncover records (such as Hall’s 1946 award of the Croix de Guerre by France) which had been lost, misplace, or destroyed. Easy to read, despite the changing code names and unfamiliar geography. (A map of the area would have helped.)
“Eisenhower himself [said] its combined actions—sabotage, ambushes, harassment, and constant sapping of Nazi morale—had shortened the war in Europe by nine months and kept eight German divisions permanently away from the D-Day battlefields.”
The contrast between Hall’s humility and energy with the sloth and smugness of her British, French, and American (male) compatriots is vivid. The Prologue is too long and didactic. Read the rest of the book first, then the Prologue.
“She operated in the shadows, and that was where she was happiest.”