Violette Szabo

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Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell Szabo, GC, MBE, (26 June 1921 – c. 5 February 1945) was a World War II British secret agent.


Early life and marriage

She was born Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell in Paris, France on 26 June 1921, the second child of a French mother and an English taxi-driver father, who had met during World War I. The family moved to London and she attended school in Brixton until the age of 14. At the start of World War II, she was working in the Bon Marché department store in Brixton on the perfume counter.

Violette met Etienne Szabo, a French officer of Hungarian descent, at the Bastille Day parade in London in 1940. They married on 21 August 1940 after a whirlwind 42-day romance. Violette was 19, Etienne was 31. Shortly after the birth of their only child, Tania, Etienne died from chest wounds at the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. He had never seen his daughter. It was Etienne's death that made Violette, having already joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1941, decide to offer her services to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Allied spy

Training and first mission

After an assessment for fluency in the French language and a series of interviews, she was inducted into Special Operations Executive. She received intensive training in night and daylight navigation, escape and evasion, both Allied and German weapons, unarmed combat, demolitions, explosives, communications and cryptography. A minor accident during parachute training delayed her deployment into the field until 5 April 1944, when she was parachuted into German-occupied France, near Cherbourg.

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