Happy Easter to those who celebrate and Happy Sunday to everyone else.
Today is the A to Z Challenge’s first Sunday break for the month but since I usually post every day or just about, I thought I’d write one of my normal Saturday segments.
Throughout history women have made their mark in a wide variety of ways. In WOW, I usually highlight one of these remarkable women and write about their life from birth to the grave. To keep with my theme for this month’s A to Z Challenge, today I write about several women who contributed to the Allied force’s fight against the Axis Powers but only about that aspect of their life. Women contributed in many ways. In my post today, I write about those women who gained fame or notoriety from their contribution. Some of them you’ll recognize but not necessarily from their WW2 work. Be sure to look for the Women in the Armed Forces when it is time for “W” near the end of the month.
Long before she brought the Art of French cuisine to the American public, Julia McWilliams Child had other thoughts about what she wanted to do. She had wanted to join the WACs or the WAVES but was turned down for being too tall at her height of 6’2″. She worked out of the OSS Headquarters in Washington, DC and was in research and development. One of her projects was a workable shark repellent used for downed flight crews and later used for US space missions with water landings. She also supervised an OSS facility in China. She handled countless top secret documents for the OSS.
You know her as the sultry German born actress who met the world on the silver screen. Marlene Dietrich became an American citizen in 1939. She was a volunteer for the OSS and served both by entertaining troops on the front lines and by broadcasting nostalgic songs as propaganda to German troops who were battle weary. She received the Medal of Freedom for her work.
Josephine Baker was a famous singer and dancer called the Creole Goddess, the Black Pearl and the Black Venus for her beauty, but she was also a spy. She worked for the French Resistance undercover and smuggled military secrets into Portugal from France hidden in invisible ink on her sheet music. After the war, for her underground activity, Baker received the Croix de guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.
Actress Hedy Lamarr made a valuable contribution to the intelligence division by co-producing an anti-jamming device for torpedoes. She also devised a clever way of “frequency hopping” that prevented the interception of American military messages. Everyone knew she was an actress but few were aware she was an inventor of military importance.
Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, whose code name was “Cynthia” and who later used the name Betty Pack, worked for the OSS in Vichy France. She was sometimes used as a “swallow” who would seduce the enemy to get secret information, and also participated in break-ins. One daring raid involved taking secret naval codes from a locked and guarded room and from a safe within this. She also infiltrated the Vichy French Embassy in Washington DC and took important code books.
Although there is some dispute over his story, according to William Stephenson, Amy Elizabeth Thorpe came to his attention in winter 1937, after joining her husband on assignment in Warsaw. Stephenson, Churchill’s wartime head of British Security Coordination from May 1940, says that Thorpe was especially useful to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in 1938 for her work in helping the Allies understand how the Enigma machine was used and that Polish mathematicians were breaking Enigma ciphers. Enigma machines would be used throughout the coming war by the Axis Powers, whose enciphered messages would routinely be read at Britain’s Bletchley Park.
Some women who played a significant role were cryptanalysts and code breakers. Genevieve Feinstein was such a woman. She hoped to become a math teacher; however, after taking the tests to become a professional government mathematician, she was offered a job with the Signal Intelligence Service (SIS). In 1939, Mrs. Feinstein was a cryptanalyst involved in the decryption and reading of Japanese diplomatic messages. In September 1940, she made a discovery that changed the course of history. Her successful breakthrough enabled the SIS to build an analog machine to decrypt the Japanese diplomatic messages, known as “Purple,” throughout WWII. Mrs. Feinstein followed her success with work on other Japanese cipher systems and as a pioneer in the cryptanalytic research section working on a variety of machine cipher systems. Following the war, she was assigned to the Soviet problem working on the Venona Project, a counter-intelligence program.
New Zealand-born Nancy Grace Augusta Wake AC GM was the most decorated service woman among Allied troops in WWII. She grew up in Australia and worked as a nurse and then as a journalist. As a journalist she watched the rise of Hitler and was well aware of the dimension of the threat Germany posed. When the war began she was living in France with her husband and became a courier for the French Resistance. The Gestapo called her the “White Mouse” and she became their most wanted spy. In constant danger, her mail was read and her phone tapped. With a price of 5 million francs on her head, her network was uncovered. She fled and was briefly arrested but released and, after six attempts, went to England and there joined the SOE. She was forced to leave her husband behind and the Gestapo tortured him to death trying to learn her location. In 1944 she parachuted back into France to assist the Maquis and was participant in training highly effective Resistance troops. She once bicycled 100 miles through German checkpoints to replace a lost code and was reputed to have killed a German soldier with her bare hands to save others. After the war she was awarded the Croix de Guerre three times, the George Medal, the Médaille de la Résistance, and the American Medal of Freedom for her undercover achievements.
With enough time and research, I am sure I could find many other women who should be credited with the freedoms we have today. Are there any that I missed that you think should be included? I would be happy to update the post with any that you suggest.
Tomorrow starts the 2nd week of the A to Z Challenge. I invite you back for E is for Eagle’s Nest – Hitler’s Retreat.