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The Saga Of French Resistance Spy Mistress Marie-Madeleine Fourcade

“Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler,” by Lynne Olson narrates the audacity of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade {code name “Hedgehog”} in graphic detail and with historical authenticity. Just 31 years old in 1941, she became France’s only female chef de Résistance. Her network with 3,000 agents and operating in nearly every sizeable town in the country provided more intelligence than any other — and she escaped twice after capture. Marie, who fought the Nazis while enduring sexism in her ranks, is little remembered today. She was beautiful, liked men, and was liked in return; but her compelling passion was defeating the despised Boches. A master of disguises, she frequently changed her hair color, and sometimes used distorting dentures and other theatrical tricks. With this gripping tale Lynne pays her what De Gaulle, France and history has so far denied her. France, slow to confront the stain of collaborationist Vichy government led by 84-year-old Marshal Philippe Pétain, hero of Verdun, hastily formed in the spa town is now confronted with awesome scale of her resistance. In 1936, over tea at her sister’s elegant Paris apartment, the outspoken 27-year-old caught the eye of a former French military intelligence officer, Maj. Georges Loustaunau-Lacau {code name Navarre}. He shared her revulsion at France’s passivity in the face of fascism and was organising those of like mind. In 1941, when he was arrested for, Marie led the movement he had started. About 600 members, ordinary citizens who had little training, of the organisation died in concentration camps after being arrested or were killed by Nazi firing squads. Marie was arrested at Aix-en-Provence in 1942 but managed to make a daring escape. At 3 a.m., she stripped naked and somehow squeezed through the bars on the window, badly bruising her face and body. She dropped to the street below and evaded German patrols by hiding inside a crypt at a nearby cemetery. In 1943, she spent six months in Britain to throw the Nazis off her trail before returning to France for the remainder of the war. Marie was named a Commander of the Legion of Honor and for a time served as a member of the European Parliament at Strasbourg. She died of cancer in 1989 in Paris. She was born into a wealthy French family in 1909 and her father worked for a shipping company in Shanghai. At 17, she met an army officer, and they quickly married. Two children followed: Christian, a year after the wedding, and two years later, Beatrice. As her husband demanded she follow a more traditional role, they split in 1933. In 1935, she did something that few women of her social class would do; she became a producer at a Paris radio station. Shortly afterwards, she fell in love with a French Air Force pilot, Leon Faye, who joined her network as her deputy. Even after she became pregnant, she continued to take jaw-dropping risks. At the end of the war, when the British asked how they could repay her, she requested that they bring her children back from Switzerland, where they had been in hiding. She was reunited with them, and then, in 1946, Marie married a French businessman, and three years later, they had a daughter.