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Forces War Records Blog

THE FEMALE IS DEADLIER THAN THE MALE: POLISH BEAUTY QUEEN TURNED BRITISH SPY

Blogger: GemSen With her many acts of courage and bravado fighting Nazis, it’s not hard to understand why Christine Granville was Churchill’s favourite spy. Christine saved lives by undermining the Nazi regime and her exciting adventures and tenacious but charming character wouldn’t look out of place in a fictional book or movie. Recognising this, Ian Fleming apparently used charismatic Christine as inspiration for his famous Bond girl. The first female British secret agent of World War II, Christine, born in Warsaw, Poland, as Krystyna Skarbek, volunteered her services in 1939 after her homeland fell to the Nazis. She was given the cover name: Christine Granville (which she also kept after the war) and was enrolled in 'Section D' - short for destruction - which later became the Special Operations Executive (SOE). It was Christine’s job to undertake espionage, reconnaissance and sabotage missions in occupied territory. And, even though it is an incredible one, the story of Christine Granville is also a true one so if you haven’t heard about her already then you should read on… Christine began life in a country that didn’t officially exist — Warsaw was then part of Russia and would remain so until Poland gained independence in 1918. A former beauty queen and the daughter of an aristocrat and Jewish banking heiress, Christine had a privileged upbringing — growing up very self-assured. Despite the family’s prosperity they were not immune to anti-semitic gossip regarding Christine’s mother’s Jewish roots. The family lost their fortune and good lifestyle in the post-World War I depression when the Goldfeder bank collapsed. By the age of 21 Christine’s life had changed and she was living in a modest apartment in Warsaw with her mother and brother after her father left her mother. As a spy during the war, Christine famously kept a knife strapped to her thigh, so that she was ready for action at any time. Destruction was never far from Christine's thoughts and actions. Her first missions were between Hungary (then neutral) and occupied Poland, where she skied by night to dodge border patrols in temperatures of -30 Celsius. It was here that she proved herself as an intelligence courier.

Cunning, courageous and equipped with a captivating smile, Christine could wriggle out of impossible situations. Once she tricked a Gestapo officer into carrying British propaganda into Poland for her, by pretending the contraband package was tea bought for her sick mother on the black market. She and a Polish army officer, Andrzej Kowerski, in another ordeal faced torture and death after being caught by Gestapo. Christine however, managed to escape this fate and won both their freedoms by biting her tongue so hard that it bled, she then pretended to cough up the blood. This quick thinking convinced her captors that she and her accomplice were sick with tuberculosis and to avoid the disease the officers let them go. Along with some never-before-seen pictures of Christine, the Imperial War Museum has just revealed some filed away papers detailing another of her exploits, ahead of the allied invasion in 1944. French-speaking Christine, had been dispatched to the south of France to help co-ordinate the resistance effort. Christine had also fallen for Francis Cammerts, a rising star in the SOE who was in charge of British liaison, and who she was also second-in-command to. A confidential and hidden report filed by Christine reveals her brazen rescue attempt when her lover was almost executed. Cammaerts was captured along with two colleagues after a vigilant guard search found that their banknotes had consecutive serial numbers, which blew apart the cover story that they didn't know each other. Anybody suspected of being an enemy agent would be executed without trial was the official order at the time. Christine, after being unsuccessful at persuading local Resistance members to bust the men out of prison by force came up with a very reckless plan that she went into alone. She stormed into the office of the captain of the guards at the prison at which the men were being held, and revealed herself as British agent. A wild stab in the dark, she told them that the Allied invasion was imminent and that the nearby town of Digne was a prime target which would be bombed. She told the man that he should hand over the prisoners and earn a pardon if he wanted a chance to save himself from a horrible death at the hands of the liberated French. Incredibly, Christine’s prediction was correct - terrifying the guard she had spoken to. He arranged for her to meet with his superior - a Gestapo officer and by this time Cammaerts was due to be executed that night. With his gun trained on her from the start the Gestapo officer was eventually won over by her charm and brazenness during a three-hour conversation. She claimed to have great political power by pretending to be the niece of General Montgomery and a British aristocrat. Again, Christine squirmed her way out of a tight squeeze and convinced him to save his own skin and avert an all-out attack by the Allies by freeing the men - who she identified as vital parts of the British war effort. It worked and after he had been given assurances, and a hefty bribe, the man released Cammaerts and his companions, who went on to be key players in the liberation of France. Christine was given many awards, including the the OBE, Croix de Guerre, George Medal, and Polish Patriot Shielf. You can now probably understand why Christine was the likely blueprint for the original Bond girl. Killed in the end by a single thrust of the knife by a jealous, jilted lover Christine became world news when she died in a West London Hotel in 1952. Her killer, George Muldowney, was hanged for his crimes. Christine was buried at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green, London. One year later, Fleming published Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel which included the first Bond girl - a dark-haired European beauty named Vesper Lynd. Ahead of Casino Royale's publication, Fleming spoke at length about Christine during interviews in the US – and she is the only female agent he mentions - suggesting heavily that she was the prototype who would define the our ideas of the female special agent forever. “Christine had a certain vulnerability to her. She could be incredibly tough and had this amazing, blunt courage, and would train with the men and ensure she was as tough as any man,” said Clare Mulley, who wrote a biography of Christine called ‘The Spy Who Loved’. Clare Mulley will give a talk on Christine's life and on female spies at the Churchill War Rooms, at the imperial War Museum, on Tuesday 17th September. Visit www.iwm.org.uk/events for more information. Source: Daily Mail

Want to read more real life war stories? Why not delve into our ‘historic documents’ library and read some of the interesting war diaries that we get sent – there’s nothing quite like reading a personal account of war as history unfolds itself through the eyes of somebody who was actually there. Forces War Records are fortunate to receive such amazing real life war stories involving lashings of courage, and now you can read some of them – completely free of charge. Why not log on to Forces War Records and search our vast collection of records to find out more about your own ancestors…

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