The Chancellor's Village Lecture
In 1942, the Allies were losing, Germany seemed unstoppable, and every able man in England was fighting. Churchill believed Britain was locked in an existential battle and created a secret agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose spies were trained in everything from demolition to sharp-shooting. Their job, he declared, was “to set Europe ablaze!” But with most men on the frontlines, the SOE did something unprecedented: it recruited women. Thirty-nine women answered the call, leaving their lives and families to become saboteurs in France. Half were caught, and a third did not make it home alive.
Sarah Rose draws on recently declassified files, diaries, and oral histories to tell the story of three of these women. There’s Odette Sansom, a young mother who feels suffocated by domestic life and sees the war as her ticket out; Lise de Baissac, an unflappable aristocrat with the mind of a natural leader; and Andrée Borrel, the streetwise organizer of the Paris Resistance. Together, they derailed trains, blew up weapons caches, destroyed power and phone lines, and gathered crucial intelligence—laying the groundwork for the D-Day invasion that proved to be the turning point in the war.
Speaker: Sarah Rose
Sarah Rose is a journalist and bestselling author of D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis and Helped Win World War II, and For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History. She was a news columnist at the Wall Street Journal, and her features have appeared in Outside, The Washington Post, The New York Post, Travel + Leisure, Bon Appetit, The Saturday Evening Post, and Men’s Journal. Sarah is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Chicago.