In her prime, this #HistoryHero was called Marie of Lyon, Diane, and the Limping Lady. Her real name was Virginia Hall and she was the WWII spy most feared by the German Gestapo. Here’s why…
Born in the US city of Baltimore, Maryland, in 1906, and schooled in French, Italian, and German, Virginia had a penchant for adventure. She landed in Europe in her early 20s, her sights set on a career in the US Foreign Service. But a 1932 hunting accident in Turkey took her left leg from the knee down. Thereafter, she walked with a painful limp on wooden appendage she nicknamed “Cuthbert,” robbing her of all hope of becoming a diplomat.
The outbreak of WWII in 1939 found Virginia in France, assisting the army as an ambulance driver. When Germany rolled into France in the summer of 1940, she fled to London where she ended up working for Britain's new secret Special Operations Executive. Variously known as "Churchill's Secret Army" or the "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” its purpose was to conduct espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in areas occupied by the Axis powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as to aid local resistance movement.
Few were aware of the existence of the SEO though it employed more than 13,000 people, including 3,200 women.
The SOE sent Hall back to France in August 1941. She spent the next 15 months helping to coordinate the activities of the French Resistance while posing as a correspondent for the New York Post. She developed a network of 90 agents in the southern France who did whatever it took to undermine Nazi occupation.
The Nazis put “the Limping Lady” on a hit list — they wanted her tortured and killed. In 1942, they almost succeeded. But she escaped into the Pyrenees Mountains, hiking over a 7,500 foot pass into Spain on her prosthetic leg. US forces sent her back to France disguised as a hunched over elderly milkmaid. Cuthbert hid under bulky skirts.
With the help of her band of resistance fighters, she transmitted intelligence via radio signals, mapped drop zones for supplies and commandos, set up safe houses, and trained Resistance forces to wage guerrilla warfare. On D-Day her band blew up four bridges, derailed freight trains, and severed phone lines, blocking the retreating Nazis. She was thus instrumental in helping the Allied forces secure victory over the Germans.
In 1945, Virginia Hall became only civilian woman to receive the 2nd highest US military award for Bravery: the Distinguished Service Cross. She was also made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), and received the Croix de Guerre with Palme by France. She died in 19XX. This year, she was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, remembered as the one-legged lady spy who tormented the Nazis and the most decorated female spy in US history.