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Women Heroes of World War I

In January I reviewed Code Name Pauline by Kathryn J. Atwood (Chicago Review Press), the memoir of Pearl Witherington Cornioley, who was an SOE operative during WWII. The author recently sent me some more of her work from the Women of Action series and I’ve just finished reading Women Heroes of World War I. This book covers sixteen women in detail, from resisters and spies to medics, soldiers and journalists. Each role has a section, with an introduction and information about each of the women.

I found descriptions of women such as Flora Sandes, who worked in Serbia during the war, very fresh because the Western Front is often concentrated on in books aimed at teenagers or young adults. Sandes was a British woman who went to Serbia to help nurse the soldiers there. She was involved in fundraising for, buying and distributing supplies.

Later, she was accepted as a private in the Serbian army. I enjoyed reading about women who worked in the other theatres of war further afield, such as Helena Gleichen, a radiographer in Italy. I was interested in the story of Marina Yurlova, a girl who boarded a troop train and ended up as a Cossack. I think the woman I was most inspired by was Louise de Bettignies, a French woman who worked for the British intelligence service and organised the Alice Network, a resistance group in Lille. This fascinating woman thought of many creative ways of evading arrest while carrying secret messages.

All of the accounts were very interesting and full of information. I certainly learned a lot, and the use of anecdotes made the women leap off the page! As the women worked in different countries, and some moved between several places, I found the map at the beginning of the book very helpful for tracking the progress of each story. There are many quotes and short historical background notes included which were relevant and useful as well.

On the other hand, there were places where more stringent editing would have improved the read. Also, I was disappointed that while this book includes information about British, French and Russian women, as well as a Romanian and women who worked in Serbia and Italy, there was very little mention of any German women. As the title of the book, (Women Heroes of World War I), does not say anything about ‘Allied Women Heroes’, I think that the imbalance was odd, although it could be due to a lack of available sources. However, the depth of research and detail in this book is evident and the author has provided a feast of fascinating stories which inspire and educate.






Code Name Pauline

This post is kind of about an Adventurous Woman but as I’ve been reading her memoirs I’ve decided just to review the book. I received Code Name Pauline as a Christmas present but I had so many other things to read that I only finished it last night. Code Name Pauline is the memoir of Pearl Witherington Cornioley who was a Special Operations Executive agent in WWII. The book is based on interviews between her and Hervé Larroque and was edited by Kathryn J. Atwood. It is part of the Women of Action biography series published by Chicago Review Press.

The Women of Action series aims to be lively and accessible and Code Name Pauline ticked both boxes. The story is told mostly in Pearl’s own voice, except for small sections of background facts at the start of each chapter. These were useful for putting Pearl’s story into context with the events happening around her. The maps, photographs and notes throughout the book were very interesting.

Pearl’s fascinating account details her early life, special agent training, her work as an undercover courier in France and finally becoming the leader of a band of 3,500 French Resistance fighters.

Some recent news also links in with this book as Wing Commander Nikki Thomas has just been named as the first woman to command an RAF fast jet squadron. Thomas is expected to lead bombing missions over Iraq this year.

Another piece of recent news is that a former SOE agent who helped British agents in Italy has been honoured with three war medals after a 70 year wait. Rossana Banti was presented with the Italy Star, the Victory Medal and the 1939-1945 Medal. Banti helped brief and prepare agents, distribute anti-fascist literature and she also trained as a parachutist.

Anyway, Code Name Pauline was a great read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in WWII or SOE agents’ work in France. I would love to hear from anyone who has read it, the comment box is open!


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