Valor Friday

| January 7, 2022

A while back (OK, it was almost two years ago, but blame COVID or something) I went over a group of women who had earned the US Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor in the face of the enemy. As women had, until very recently, been prohibited from serving in combat, these are rare awards. I wrote of six of the recipients at that time. Those six women received their awards for service during the First World War. Back when I wrote that original article, my research led me to a seventh recipient, but I’ve also uncovered an eighth. I’ll be looking at both incredible ladies today.

Virginia Hall

Virginia Hall

Socialite Virginia Hall was born in Baltimore to a wealthy family. Her status in the upper crust of society allowed her to attend a series of colleges in the US, studying French, Italian, and German. Destined from birth to marry into another family of high standing she instead preferred adventure. Hall called herself, “capricious and cantankerous.”

Hall instead expanded her studies to Europe, where she took courses in France, Germany, and Austria. This led her to the American Consulate in Warsaw, Poland, where she took a job as a Consular Service clerk in 1931.

Hall transferred with the Consular Service to Turkey a few months later. In 1933, while on a bird hunting excursion, the 24 year old Hall tripped and shot herself in the foot. This necessitated the amputation of her left leg below the knee. She was later fitted with a prosthetic she named “Cuthbert.” She continued with the consulate though, working in Venice and Estonia after losing her leg.

During this time, Hall repeatedly attempted to get hired by the United States Foreign Service to become a career diplomat. At the time, women were rarely hired for such posts. Of the 1,500 employed as part of the US Foreign Service, only six were women.

In 1937, she was again rejected, based on a Department of State rule against hiring disabled people as diplomats. She, her family, and well-connected family friends petitioned directly to President Franklin Roosevelt (who himself was physically disabled), but her appeals went unheeded. She eventually resigned in March 1939 while still a clerk for the Department of State.

As Continental Europe exploded into war mere months later, Hall’s sense of adventure carried her to be an ambulance driver in France. She did that from February 1940 until the country fell to the Germans in June the same year.

Hall made her way to Spain, ostensibly neutral for the remainder of the war, and made the acquaintance of a British fellow. He was with British intelligence (MI6) and gave her the name of a “friend” that might be able to help her find work in Britain.

Hall made the call. She’d been put in contact with Nicolas Bodington, who was with MI6’s recently organized Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE was to be the direct-action arm of MI6 much like the current CIA’s Special Activities Division. As such they would conduct not only espionage, but sabotage and would help aid, arm, and train resistance forces in occupied Europe.

Known as “Churchill’s Secret Army”, they were given their mandate from the British Prime Minister to “Now go and set Europe ablaze.” Over the course of the war about 13,000 people, 3,200 of whom were women, would serve in the SOE. Hall joined up with the SOE. After some training she was only the second woman they sent into France and the first one to serve a significant time there. A total of 41 women would be sent by the SOE to France, with only 26 surviving the war.

Hall arrived in Vichy France, the unoccupied part of France that was nominally independent but in reality being run as a Nazi puppet state, in late-August 1941. Her cover was that she was a reporter with the New York Times. This would allow her some freedom to ask pointed questions and be nosy, thus not arousing suspicion.

Hall had to learn spycraft on her own, on the job. She made contact with a local network of the French underground and began recruiting her own assets. Out of necessity, she abided by the now-standard spy mantra of “I doubt, therefore I survive.”

She befriended the female madame who ran a local brothel. This allowed Hall to receive intelligence from German troops who partook of the brothel’s services and got a little too talky with the ladies of the evening. Hall organized safe houses, helped aid downed Allied airmen escape, and coordinated the French resistance fighters, the Maquis.

Her senses were keen. In October 1941, Hall got a bad feeling about a meeting of the underground and avoided it. The meeting was raided by French police, who arrested 12 members.

Working out of the French city of Lyon, she worked with many well known SOE officers such as Captain Peter Churchill (who received the Distinguished Service Order, the UK’s second highest award for valor in combat), Major Benjamin Cowburn (who twice received the Military Cross, analogous to an American Bronze Star Medal w/ “V”), Lieutenant Colonel Richard Heslop (DSO), and several prominent figures in the French underground.

One of the ways Hall was able to stay ahead of her pursuers in the Gestapo was by changing her appearance. It’s been said that she could be four different women in the span of an afternoon.

Klaus Barbie, head of the Gestapo in Lyon and known as the “Butcher of Lyon” for the trail of tortured bodies left in the wake of his men, had posters hung throughout the city with Hall’s likeness on them. Above the drawing of Hall’s face was the message, “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy — We Must Find And Destroy Her!”

The 12 men of the underground arrested by French authorities were held at Mauzac prison near Bergerac. Hall’s radio operator was able to smuggle out messages to her. Hall recruited one of the prisoner’s wives to the cause, and used her frequent visits to the prison (and her deliveries of provisions to them) to bring in contraband. Since Hall herself was too visible to visit the men, she organized safe houses, vehicles, and a network of helpers.

The prisoner’s wife smuggled in enough supplies that her husband was able to fashion a key for the room they were being held in, and the men escaped in July 1942. In what became known as one of the most useful operations of its kind during the war, the men were able to hide and escape through an intense manhunt, and all were able to connect with Hall in Lyon by 11 August 1942.

Once with Hall in Lyon, the men would be smuggled to Spain and from there to England. Hall orchestrated this all through the miserable winter of 1941 into 1942. At one point she jokingly asked her British handlers to send her a bar of soap to make her “both very happy and much cleaner.”

With this very large and successful escape, the Germans were not pleased to say the least. The Gestapo flooded Vichy France with 500 agents and the Abwehr (German military intelligence) increased their attempts to infiltrate the underground. The enemy focused their attention on Lyon, the center of the resistance.

With the noose tightening, including her having become a contact for a Paris-based Abwehr agent who had infiltrated the underground there earlier in the summer, the Allies advised Hall that an invasion of North Africa was imminent on 7 November 1942. When Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, started on 8 November, the Germans moved swiftly to occupy Vichy France.

Sensing that the oppression from the Gestapo and Abwehr would only intensify under full Nazi occupation, Hall fled Lyon without telling anyone. She didn’t even notify any of her closest contacts. Escaping by train to the southern Spanish city of Perpignan, she then (with the help of a guide) walked over a 7,500 foot pass in the Pyrenees, covering 50 miles in three days through heavy snow in winter.

You’ll recall that Hall was a woman with only one leg, so she was in considerable discomfort during the trip. You’ll also recall she named her artificial leg Cuthbert. As Hall set off for her journey by foot she told her British handlers that she hoped Cuthbert wouldn’t give her any trouble. The Brits, apparently not knowing about whom she was referring to or with dry British wit, advised her, “If Cuthbert troublesome, eliminate him.”

During her time in Vichy France, Hall earned the nickname “La Dame Qui Boite” (the lady who limps) from the Germans who hunted her.

In Spain she was arrested for not having a Spanish stamp on her passport. Released six weeks later, she was evacuated to England. The British intelligence brass considered her compromised for further action. Thus they declined her repeated requests to be sent back to France.

Hall turned to the Americans then, whose foreign intelligence unit the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was ramping up operations in Europe. She signed on in March 1944 with the OSS and was commissioned a second lieutenant and sent back to France. Her leg kept her from being parachuted into the country as most agents were, and instead she was secreted in by gunboat.

Taking the name Marcelle Montagne she posed as older than she was by dying her hair gray and filing her high class American teeth down so she looked more like a poor peasant. The OSS objective in these days was to train and equip the French resistance, the Maquis, so they could aid the Allies after their Invasion of Normandy, planned for sometime in the early summer.

During the spring and summer of 1944 the experienced spy worked her way into the interior of France, making contacts as she went. In July, the OSS asked her to move to Haute-Loire in central southern France to coordinate with the Maquis there in advance of Operation Dragoon (the Allied invasion of France from the Mediterranean).

Setting up shop in a barn, Hall dropped her disguises and operated in the open. With her rank of second lieutenant, and being a woman, she found it eminently difficult to work with the many “colonels” (as they styled themselves) of the resistance. She finally started to gain some compliance when three planeloads of supplies and money were passed onto the fighters through her.

She thus commanded 1,500 maquisards before and during Operation Dragoon. They undertook several successful operations under Hall’s direction. As the Allies retook all of France, she was brought to liberated Paris on 22 September. For a brief time after that, Hall and another OSS officer were sent to Austria to foment anti-Nazi sentiment. Soon enough though, the war was over.

Listed as a civilian employee of the OSS, Hall received the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second-highest award for valor in the face of the enemy, for her activities in France in 1944. She was one of only two women who received the honor, and the only American woman, during the Second World War. To date, no women have received the award since then either. Hall was presented the award by the head of the OSS himself, General “Wild Bill” Donovan. President Truman wanted a public awards ceremony, but Hall refused.

Hall was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), a prestigious honor from the King of Great Britain that ranks just a step below a knighthood, for her services to that country. The French awarded her their Croix de Guerre with palm, indicating a citation at the Army-level.

After the war, Hall returned to Lyon to meet with some of her contacts. Many of them hadn’t survived the war. She was able to secure for some of them some compensation, but most received no money from the British or Americans for what they had done and the risks they’d taken.

In 1947 Hall joined the OSS’s successor organization, the Central Intelligence Agency. One of the first women hired by the agency, she was given a desk job as an analyst studying Soviet moves in Europe. She left the following year but came back in 1950 for another desk job.

In 1951, she joined the CIA’s Special Activities Division (SAD), which was to become the CIA’s direct-action arm. SAD was modeled on the successful wartime agencies of the British SOE and American OSS, both of which Hall was experienced with.

During the 1950s she worked in Europe trying to combat the spread of Soviet communism. She retired from the agency in 1966 at the mandatory retirement age of 60. Retiring with her husband, Paul Goillot (who was an OSS lieutenant during the war that worked under Hall’s command in southern France) to a farm in Maryland, she died in 1982. Paul died in 1987.

During her life Hall refused to write or speak about her wartime exploits, which left her largely forgotten to history. The CIA quotes her as saying, “Many of my friends were killed for talking too much.” Perhaps that’s why she was so tight-lipped. Perhaps it’s because she didn’t crave any attention or accolades.

Since her death, and with the rise of the Internet, Hall’s story has finally come out. The CIA Museum has only five exhibits dedicated to individual agents. One of those is dedicated to Hall, the only female so honored, and the other four are men who went on to head the agency.

Jeannette Guyot

Jeannette Guyot

Jeannette Guyot was born in 1919 in eastern France. Her parents were blue collar folks. In 1940, when the Germans had invaded France and toppled the government, Guyot and her parents joined the resistance.

While in the German-occupied France, Guyot would help smuggle fugitives like other resistance members, spies, and downed airmen to the relative safety of Vichy France. In the early years of the war, Vichy France, though a Nazi puppet state, was nominally independent. From Vichy France it was easier to smuggle people into Spain and on to Great Britain.

By the latter half of 1941 Guyot was gathering intelligence on German forces and the Vichy government for French Resistance legend Gilbert Renault (aka Colonel Rémy).

Guyot was arrested by German authorities in February 1942 while escorting a group of fugitives. She was held for three months in prison, resisting all attempts at interrogation. Once released, she resumed her activities. Despite the Gestapo seizing her identification cards and border pass, Guyot still secreted about a dozen people across the line from occupied to Vichy France every month.

In early 1943, Guyot’s parents were arrested by the Germans for their clandestine activities. Unfortunately her father, Jean Marie Guyot, would die in a Bavarian concentration camp in 1944. Her mother, Jeanne, survived her captivity and was repatriated to France after the war.

In spring of 1943, German and Vichy French authorities began closing in and arresting several members of Guyot’s intelligence network. She requested exfiltration from her handlers in the UK after her name had landed on the Gestapo’s wanted list.

On 13 May 1943, the British RAF sent a Westland Lysander aircraft to a field near Luzillé in central France. The Lysander was a short take off and landing 2-seat reconnaissance and liaison aircraft. The Brit pilot picked up Guyot and two other resistance agents.

Evacuated to England, Jeannette Guyot enlisted with the Free French Forces under General Charles DeGaulle (the Allied-recognized head of the French Government-in-Exile). She continually petitioned her superiors to return to intelligence duty in France.

Guyot’s persistence paid off. During the winter of 1943 to 1944 she got her wish. British MI6 and the American OSS were ramping up efforts in Operation Sussex. Sussex was the underground intelligence operation in advance of the Allied Invasion of Normandy planned for early summer 1944. In January 1944, Guyot earned her parachute wings at St Albans in Hertfordshire, England as most of the agents sent to occupied France were infiltrated by parachute.

On 8 February 1944, Guyot and three other French intelligence officers parachuted into occupied central France at Clion. Their mission was to identify landing zones and safe houses for a whopping 52 Operation Sussex teams of agents who would be coming in the next several weeks. As the Sussex teams parachuted in, Guyot and her compatriots would assist them as they evaded authorities.

Early on in her return to France, Guyot enlisted the help of her cousin. She asked her cousin if she could use her Cafe de l’Electricite in Paris. Guyot wanted to set up a radio operator there, despite being right next to the Gestapo office.

Her cousin later told the BBC, “I knew which kind of work she had come to make, and when she asked me… if I were ready to help her, I answered yes without the least hesitation. Although the cafe was located beside an office of the Gestapo, I knew what I wanted to do, I was not afraid.” After the war the cafe was renamed Cafe des Sussex.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1944 Guyot undertook many dangerous missions. Moving this many assets directly under the nose of the brutally effective Gestapo and Abwehr was dangerous work. If she’d been caught, she’d likely have been executed.

As it were, Guyot was continually successful in all that she did, and was never captured again. With the Allies liberating France, she returned to Britain in October 1944. There she was assigned to the General Directorate for Studies and Research (DGER) of the Free French intelligence service.

Guyot remained in this post until the end of the war. She left the DGER on 30 June 1945. In 1947 she married Marcel Gaucher, a fellow agent of Operation Sussex. They raised three children and lived in Sevrey, France. Guyot died in 2016 at age 97, leaving behind two daughters, one son, and several grandchildren.

Guyot, just like Virginia Hall, had preferred to avoid any attention from her wartime exploits. She led a quiet life, avoided publicity, and a few years before her death passed on her awards and decorations to a granddaughter.

Guyot’s Awards and Decorations

Among Guyot’s awards are the French Legion of Honor as a Chevalier (Knight), the Croix de Guerre with Palm (indicating a citation at the Army-level), and the Resistance Medal. The latter was awarded for “Remarkable acts of courage that contributed to the resistance of the French people against the enemy.” Only 62,000 were awarded with fully 39% of those being posthumous awards.

Guyot earned accolades from Allied nations as well. From the United Kingdom, she was awarded the George Medal. That is the second highest award the UK gives for personal bravery not in the face of the enemy. It has only been awarded 2,122 times, about half of those to civilians (Guyot held the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Forces). From the United States she received the Distinguished Service Cross, the country’s second highest award for combat bravery. Along with Virginia Hall, she is one of only two women to receive that honor during (or since) the Second World War. Only eight women have ever received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Category: Distinguished Service Cross, Historical, UK and Commonwealth Awards, Valor, We Remember

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Two more good examples that you don’t have to have testicles to have “balls”. BZ Ladies, a Battery Gun Salute in Honor of your Bravery!

Great Stories Mason. Thanks!


Thank You, Mason, for taking the time in doing the research on these two Wonderful Warriors and sharing their stories with us.

Unsung Heroes. All Of Them.


Knowing full well that being tortured to death was a very likly outcome to their existance, we shouldn’t let these women be lost to history. Heroes all.

Mustang Major

Virginia Hall attended Roland Park Country Day School, a girls college preparatory school located in Baltimore. The school has and continues to produce successful graduates.


Wonderful ladies.


Two great women of true valor and courage. Thanks Mason for shining a light on them.

Green Thumb

Great story. Thanks for posting.


A great read. Faire l’impossible avec honneur malgré les obstacles.