42 pages • 1 hour readSonia Purnell
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A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of Virginia Hall, WWII’s Most Dangerous Spy is a 2019 biography by Sonia Purnell. It tells the story of Virginia Hall, an American spy whose efforts were critical to France’s success in World War II. Despite its larger-than-life nature and importance to the Allied forces’ success, Hall’s story has remained largely unknown until now.
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Virginia was born into an affluent family. Her mother, Barbara, wanted her to climb the social ladder and marry into money as she had. Uninterested in both romance and wealth, a young Virginia traveled to Paris instead. When the rumblings of World War II began, her love for France, her need for adventure, and her loathing of fascism prompted her to join the espionage effort. Originally denied entry to the Foreign Service because of her sex and her disability—her foot was amputated after a hunting accident—Virginia persevered and joined F Section. F Section was the French branch of the Special Operation Executive (SOE): the British Secret service responsible for wartime espionage.
Virginia was one of the first successful secret agents in France. The SOE had struggled to infiltrate deeply and had therefore been unable to organize resistance groups. Virginia’s courage, commitment to detail, sense of duty, organizational skills, and relentless work ethic made her an ideal spy. She also found freedom in the solitary lifestyle.
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As the war progressed, Virginia made increasing inroads against the Nazis, leading groups in intelligence gathering, sabotage, prison escapes, and more. Klaus Barbie, a brutal Nazi commander and torturer, became obsessed with finding her. At every new juncture, men were initially unwilling to take orders from Virginia, but most of them eventually admitted that she was a formidable, invaluable asset.
When the war ended, Virginia returned to American with Philip Goillot, a spy she fell in love with during her time in Europe. They hid their relationship from Barbara, who disapproved of Philip. Virginia spent the remainder of her professional life with the CIA, which gave her relatively menial, repetitive tasks unbefitting her rank and experience. Virginia is now honored by the CIA, but her story remains relatively unknown.