I’m an ex Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) soldier. Enlisted aged 17 and was proud to serve my Queen and country. I’ve always loved my (home) country and I’ve always been proud of those brave men and women who played their part in preventing Hitler’s total dominance of the whole of Europe, including England/UK… during the Second World War.
There are so many hero’s of this conflict to whom we owe such a great debt of gratitude, while I am not a fan of war, I do believe that terrorism must not be allowed to prevail under any circumstances and, if WW2 had not been won by the British and her Allies, I and many millions of us would not be sitting here today with the freedom to have our say.
As a child I grew up with loving my country’s history and of course I was born eight short years after WW2 ended. The year I was born Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, war rationing ended and the country was being re-built after the Blitz of the Battle of Britain. I still remember the old air raid shelters in people’s back gardens and the practise air raid sirens going off once a week. Still very much spoken about in the aftermath of WW2 … Violette Szabo was many a child’s heroine. Her story is well told in the UK and, she has always been one of my heros.
This is her story, and this is my tribute to just one of those few to whom…. as Churchill once said of the pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few.”
Odette Churchill, married to a nephew of Sir Winston Churchill and, herself also an under cover agent, who was captured by the Germans but, was released shortly before the war in Europe ended said of Violette Szabo:
“She was the bravest of us all.”
And if you write of her… all we ask is that you:
Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell Szabo, G.C., M.B.E., CdG (June 26, 1921 – c.February 5, 1945) was a World War II secret agent.
Violette Szabo was the daughter of a French mother and an English father, born Violette Bushell in Paris, France. She was a secret agent in Occupied France. Her wartime activities were dramatised in the film Carve Her Name with Pride, based on the book of the same name by R.J. Minney.
During her time in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) she met Leo Marks, who gave her what is now thought of as the definitive World War II code-poem ‘The life that I have.’
Of all the agents that Marks briefed, Violette Szabo is the one with whom he will always be linked. In 1943 Marks met and fell in love with a woman who lived nearby in a flat on Edgware Road, but within three months she was killed in an air-crash. The next year, Violette Szabo needed a code-poem for a mission in France Marks gave her the lines he had written for the dead woman. Curious, Violette asked who had written them. ‘I’ll check up,’ he told her, ‘and let you know when you get back.’ In fact, Violette Szabo never did return.
Violette used parts of this poem as her code so that Radio Operatives in England would know it was really she herself who was sending out messages.
THE LIFE THAT I HAVE
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause.
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.
In 1940, Violette married Etienne Szabo, a French officer of Hungarian descent. Shortly after the birth of their only child, Tania, he was killed at the Battle of El Alamein. This was the event that caused Violette to offer her services to the SOE. Speaking fluent French she was parachuted into France by the SOE, near Cherbourg she re-organized a resistance network that had been smashed by the Germans. She led them in sabotaging bridges and her reports to SOE headquarters on the factories producing war materials for the Germans were extremely important to establish bombing targets. She returned to England and quickly was sent back to Limoges in France where she coordinated the local Maquis to sabotage German communication lines in preparation for D-Day.
She was captured by German soldiers around mid-day on the 10th of June, 1944, near Salon-la-Tour, while they were searching for one of their missing officers. In R.J. Minney’s biography of her, she twisted her ankle and, unable to run she is described as putting up fierce resistance with her Sten gun allowing the men with her to escape. Captured she was then transferred to the SD (Gestapo) in Limoges.
She was interrogated by the Gestapo under torture but refused to tell them the poem. She was then sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp where she was forced into hard labour and suffered terribly from malnutrition and exhaustion.
Violette Szabo was executed by the Germans on or about February 5, 1945 and her body disposed of in the crematorium. At Ravensbrück, three other female members of the SOE were executed by the Germans: Denise Bloch, Cecily Lefort, and Lilian Rolfe. Violette was just 23-years old.
In 1958 a film of Szabo’s life was made, named Carve Her Name With Pride starring Virginia McKenna as Szabo. In the film, before kneeling down to be shot in the back of the head (as was witnessed by another British agent in the camp), Szabo recites the code-poem Marks had given her. On the film’s release, and despite Marks’s request for anonymity, he was eventually named as the author of the poem.
‘The Life That I Have’ is still in the top 20 of the UK’s finest poems.
On January 28th, 1946, Tania Szabo, aged four, received her mother’s posthumous George Cross from King George VI (The present Queens’ father) she was wearing a dress that Violette had brought back from her first sortie into enemy occupied France.
The citation in part reads: –
‘Madame Szabo volunteered to undertake a particularly dangerous mission in France…. In her execution of the delicate researches entailed she showed great presence of mind and astuteness. She was twice arrested…. but each time managed to get away.
She was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously and atrociously tortured, but never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances or told the enemy anything of value. She was ultimately executed. Mme Szabo gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness.’
The Croix de Guerre was awarded by the French government in 1947. As one of the SOE agents who died for the liberation of France, Sub-lieutenant Szabo is listed on the “Roll of Honor” on the Valençay SOE Memorial in the town of Valençay, in the Indre département.
The Violette Szabo GC Museum is in “Cartref”, Tump Lane, Wormelow Tump, Herefordshire, HR2 8HN, England.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month I will do what I’ve always done. I will shed tears and be silent for two minutes as a mark of respect for all the hundreds and thousands of brave men and women world wide who fought and who are alive or casualties in both world wars and those brave men and women who still fight and still die in the name of freedom today.
Being ex-armed forces myself and before I left England, for many years I was a fully paid up member of the Royal British Legion, this short poem is always recited at the end of every Legion Lodge meeting and, as they pay tribute on Remembrance Day :
For the Fallen
‘They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.’
‘Evil is allowed to persist when good men stand by and do nothing’
Thank God these people did and still do….something to protect the freedoms we enjoy.
God Bless them, past, present one and All.
I have that poem etched in glass, it’s one of my most valued possessions.
Shared with Poets United #Winter & Remembrance Day