A Woman of No Importance, Sonia Purnell, author; Juliet Stevenson narrator
Virginia Hall was a woman with a singular goal. As a United States citizen, when World War II started, she was determined to do her part to defeat Germany in its effort to obtain world domination. However, a few years before, while hunting, she forgot to set the safety on her weapon, and she accidentally shot herself, resulting in the amputation of her leg. Although she was fitted with a wooden leg which she handled very well, when she attempted to work with the Armed Forces, they did not want her help, nor did they believe that she could successfully accomplish anything in the war effort with her disability. In addition, she was a woman and work in the field was generally designated for men. Women were thought to be suited for different kinds of work and she was offered administrative jobs, but nothing to excite or challenge her. She wanted to do paramilitary work, organizing and working with guerillas and the resistance. Rejected by the United States, she sought work in England. When, at first, they rejected her also, she went to France and became an ambulance driver in the war zone. Eventually, however, she went to work for the British, SOE, the Special Operations Executive. She eventually proved herself very valuable, but as a woman, she never truly achieved the honor or glory to which she aspired or which she deserved. She was often passed over for missions that were given to men to execute, after she planned them. Still, she never really did seek recognition or glory. She only sought to organize the resistance movement to successfully aid in shortening the war and eventually prevent Hitler’s success.
Virginia worked in France with several identities and disguises. She organized bands of resisters, often losing many of them when they were discovered and often being tricked by those who betrayed them. Each loss was felt like a personal blow to her. Still, for the most part, she successfully impeded Germany’s efforts and helped to liberate Paris. Most of her effort was expended in the area under the control of Marshall Petain who ruled the Vichy government, an area that was promised complete freedom, but eventually was under the complete control of Hitler.
Virginia, known as Diane, La Madone, and other names, assumed various identities and disguises, always successfully disguising her disability, age and beauty. She distributed money, food and weapons, organzed guerilla groups and their efforts at sabotage, and organized unbelievably dangerous and difficult rescues of prisoners. Her own rescue from prison was daring as well. She was unafraid of danger and actually seemed to relish it. She risked her own life hiding and operating a radio that she used to pass coded information which was invaluable to the Allies.
Virginia arranged false papers, false identities, safe houses and dangerous escape routes. Often seeming superhuman in her efforts, once even hiking out of snow covered mountains with her artificial leg that she called Cuthbert, Virginia was a largely unsung heroine. However, though she herself, preferred not to be publicly lauded or given awards, she never did receive the honor or promotions she truly deserved. She did eventually achieve a Captain’s rank and a leadership role that enabled her to lead the resistance groups and their efforts more effectively. In addition to working for the SOE, she also worked for the State Department and the CIA in America. She was eventually awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by President Truman for her work with the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services which was the forerunner of the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency. Late in life, she found love with Paul Goillot, a fellow resistance worker from Britain. Although smaller in stature than Virginia, and less educated, they were very compatible and eventually married.
The book contained too many names to keep straight without some kind of format to keep track of them, however the narrator did such an excellent job in her reading of it, that the possible tedious nature of the book as it described similar situations again and again was mitigated. Still it felt very long with its main theme concentrating on the lack of women’s rights in the armed forces, and in general. She was a woman scorned by the system, not because she was unqualified, but because of her gender. Her indomitable spirit won out each time as she constantly battled and persevered to accomplish her ultimate ambitious efforts. She was incredibly brave and far heartier than most men and women that were her equals. She was an asset to the war effort.