The Limping Lady of Lyon!
Virginia Hall, an educated Baltimore socialite served as a clerk in the US embassy in Poland in 1931. Only a year into her service, a hunting accident took the use of her leg, leaving her with a wooden prosthetic she affectionately code named, Cuthbert. This would end her career in the State Department as they had a strict policy against hiring disabled workers. But Hall sojourned on and by fate ended up in the right place at the right time: Paris on the eve of invasion in 1940. She offered her services and became an ambulance driver until Paris fell to the Germans, forcing her to flee to England.
Again, opportune timing brought her into contact with a British spy, which led to working for the Special Operations Executive or SOE. Hall became one of the first British spies dispatched to occupied France, where she began building a complex organization of spies and French citizens called HECKLER. HECKLER worked to rescue downed British airmen, keep tabs on Nazi officers, and smuggle operatives into France. Before long, the Nazis caught on and began capturing HECKLER operatives, but never seemed to get close to Hall, not for lack of trying. It did not help that Hall changed code names and appearances often, even filing down her American teeth to resemble French dentistry. These measures proved necessary as wanted posters lined French streets, declaring Hall to be “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy.”
But as the Gestapo came closer and closer, she was forced to flee over the Pyrenees to Spain, a dangerous task for anyone, but more so for a disabled woman in the dead of winter. But she never lost her spirit, joking in dispatches that Cuthbert was giving her trouble. After a brief incarceration in Spain, she was released into American custody, where she had finally proved herself enough to join the Office of Strategic Services or OSS. And back to France she went, this time under the American flag.
Hall would go on to work for the CIA for sixteen years after the war and paved the way for more and more women to join the espionage services. For her exemplary service, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Croix de Guerre, and was made an honorary member of the British Empire.
Written by Kimberly Kuntz
Leave a Reply.