Siren spotting: Virginia Hall or Codename Artemis (1906-1982)
She was an American working at the state department with an affinity for foreign languages who desperately wanted to serve her country abroad. She spoke German, French, Italian and Russian but was rejected 7 times by the US Foreign Service. Outraged, she took off to France to volunteer as an ambulance driver when Germany invaded France, but had to flee to London when Paris fell to the Germans. Once there she was recruited into the British Intelligence’s most secret branch, the Special Operations. She eventually became known to the Gestapo as the most dangerous of all spies. Not bad for a woman with a wooden leg.
She lost her leg from the knee down in a hunting accident when she was 27. Prosthetics were clunky in the 1930’s made of painted wood that didn’t fit well and sores on the skin were common. Though it was hollow it weighed more than 7 pounds and was attached by leather belts worn around Virginia’s waist.
She was responsible for rescuing hundreds of agents from prison and death camps, killed and captured almost 1000 Nazis and sabotaged countless acts of terrorism. When Klaus Barbie, the “butcher of Lyon” made finding her his top priority, she had to leave by way of an arduous and steep journey across the snow capped Pyrenees mountains to Spain. It was a distance of over 50 miles through complex and icy terrain over 7500 feet in altitude in November when it is below freezing. (And all with a wooden leg held on by her belt).
The King wanted to give her a medal and a hero’s welcome when she finally made it back to England but she turned him down, preferring to remain anonymous as she wanted to maintain her cover and go back in the field. She also refused a presentation with President Truman, but finally, the US took her seriously and she joined the CIA, who has since changed their rules and now supports people with disabilities.
With the CIA, she was prolific with sabotaging the Nazis until they all fled France. By the time Paul Goillot arrived in the field to help her, there were no Germans left. They did it, their mission was over. They found an abandoned base where there was a hidden storage of wine and celebrated, drinking and talking late into the night. This was how she met her husband.
She retired at 60 and stayed home to garden and make cheese. The CIA named a training facility after her in 2017. There is also a painting of her they commissioned before she died that hangs in their head quarters. They are obviously still inspired by her as are we.
xo, Jacci & Laura