The Incredible Story Of The Housewife Who Became World War Two’s Most Decorated Spy

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It’s 1942 and World War Two rages on. But one Frenchwoman, her country occupied by the Nazis, has found a safe haven in the rural tranquility of England’s Somerset. With her British husband away in the army, Odette Sansom is alone there with her three young children. What possible reason could there be for her to leave this safe sanctuary and her children?

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But Sansom was made of stern stuff. And her French background made her an appealing prospect for British intelligence. They were looking for women to go on incredibly dangerous espionage missions in France. Capture by the Germans was almost certain to be a death sentence. Yet despite these mortal dangers, Sansom agreed to go to France as a spy.

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Sansom, now aged 30, put her children in a convent school and landed on a French Riviera beach in November 1942. There, her job was to work as a courier for a British agent, Captain Peter Churchill. She became very close to him, as we’ll see in a moment. He headed a network of intelligence agents known as Spindle. Unfortunately, Spindle’s security was not all that it might have been. The Germans arrested both Sansom and Churchill in April 1943.

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Sansom was first imprisoned in Fresnes Prison, on the outskirts of Paris. From there, she was taken to the Gestapo’s Parisian headquarters 14 times and mercilessly tortured. The Germans wanted the names of other agents. But despite her grueling ordeal, Sansom refused to talk. Eventually even the Gestapo despaired of getting any useful information from her. She was now consigned to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp for women in northern Germany.

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Defying the odds, Sansom survived Ravensbrück. It was a hell-hole where more than 50,000 women died. After the war she divorced Roy Sansom and married Peter Churchill in 1947. The British recognized her exceptional bravery with a George Cross, the country’s second highest medal, and the Order of the British Empire. France gave her the country’s top award, the Légion d’Honneur. Odette, by now on her third marriage and going by the name of Hallowes, died in 1995 aged 82.