Violette Szabo file photo [27855]

Violette Szabo

Given NameViolette
Born26 Jun 1921
Died5 Feb 1945
CountryUnited Kingdom


ww2dbaseBorn Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell in Paris, France, daughter of a British Army driver and a French dressmaker, Violette attended a school in Brixton, South London, England, United Kingdom and subsequently worked as a shop assistant of a department store in Brixton. In early 1940 Violette joined the Women's Land Army but soon changed her employment to work in an armament factory. In July she met French Foreign Legion non-commissioned officer Étienne Szabo, and after a 42 day whirlwind romance the couple were married just days before Étienne Szabo's unit was posted overseas.

ww2dbaseWhen Étienne Szabo was killed during the great 1942 tank battle at El Alamein in Egypt, Violette Szabo vowed to devote her life to killing as many Nazis as possible. In July 1943 she volunteered to join the Special Operations Executive; was accepted and began her tough training to become an agent for covert missions in occupied France. Her first mission, in April 1944, which she completed, was to act as courier to Philippe Liewer, whose resistance network in the Rouen area of France had been uncovered by the German Gestapo organization. She was to check whether one of the Prosper network sub-chains had been compromised. Dropped by parachute near Cherbourg, she travelled to Rouen and on to Dieppe before flying back to England by Lysander bringing back much useful information.

ww2dbaseHer second mission occurred in early June 1944, just two days after the D-Day invasion of Normandie, France. Again she was parachuted back into France as a part of a four-man team with the intention of liaising with Maquis resistance groups in order to disrupt German communications. But shortly after landing, while in the company of French resistance fighter Jacques Dufour and Jean Bariaud, their car ran into a German roadblock. With exceptional courage Szabo and Dufour laid down covering fire to allow the unarmed Bariaud to escape. Szabo and Dufour then retreated to a nearby wood, exchanging fire with the pursuing enemy troops. Unfortunately, Szabo had suffered an ankle injury during her training and during the chase it gave way, forcing her to a standstill. With just 90 rounds for her Sten submachine-gun (qv) she engaged in a firefighting with some forty Germans in a heroic bid to allow her companions to escape. Eventually she was overwhelmed and captured. Interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo in Paris she was moved to the notorious disease-ridden Ravensbrück concentration camp for women, north of Berlin, Germany where she and other starving inmates were compelled to work as forced labourers. Once, during the daily roll-call she even stepped forward and, instead of giving her name, performed a rendition of the show tune "Lambeth Walk". She was executed at the camp on the 5 February 1945 aged just 23.

ww2dbaseHer heroism saw her become the second woman to be awarded the George Cross, the highest honour given to civilians, which was bestowed posthumously on 17 December 1946; her citation stating that while she was brutally tortured she never surrendered any significant information. Her exploits are remembered in the 1958 film, "Carve Her Name with Pride", starring Virginia McKenna and based on the 1956 book of the same name by R. J. Minney.

Katherine Marsh (Editor): Story of World War II (Future Publishing, 2018)
Rod McPhee: "Winston's Secret Weapons" (The Sun newspaper, 9 April 2018)

Last Major Revision: Jul 2018

Violette Szabo Interactive Map


Portrait of Violette Szabo, 1940s

Violette Szabo Timeline

26 Jun 1921 Violette Bushell was born in Paris, France.
21 Aug 1940 Violette Bushell and Étienne Szabo were married at the Aldershot Register Office in Manor Park, Aldershot, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom.
24 Oct 1942 The husband of Violette Szabo, Étienne Szabo, died from wound sustained in combat at Qaret el Himeimat, Egypt during the Second Battle of El Alamein.
1 Jul 1943 Violette Szabo was given security clearance.
10 Jul 1943 Violette Szabo was selected for training as a field agent by the Special Operations Executive.
24 Jan 1944 Violette Szabo made her will, witnessed by Vera Atkins and Major R. A. Bourne Paterson of Special Operations Executive, naming her mother Reine as executrix and her daughter Tania as sole beneficiary.
5 Apr 1944 Violette Szabo boarded a B-24 aircraft at Bedfordshire, England, United Kingdom and paradropped near Cherbourg, France.
30 Apr 1944 Violette Szabo departed France via a Lysander aircraft piloted by Bob Large, completing her first mission.
5 Jun 1944 The second mission for Violette Szabo was delayed due to stormy weather.
6 Jun 1944 The second mission for Violette Szabo was delayed due to an unexpected German patrol near the planned landing zone.
8 Jun 1944 Violette Szabo and three others boarded a B-24 aircraft at RAF Harrington in Northamptonshire, England, United Kingdom and were paradropped near Sussac near Limoges, France.
10 Jun 1944 The vehicle in which Violette Szabo traveled was stopped by a German roadblock outside of Salon-la-Tour, Limousin, France. Wounded in the ankle, she held off advancing Germans, allowing a fellow agent to flee. After running out of ammunition, she was captured.
8 Aug 1944 Violette Szabo was placed on a train in France for Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.
6 Oct 1944 Violette Szabo was returned from the Heinkel factory at Torgau to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.
19 Jan 1945 Violette Szabo was transferred from a punishment camp at Königsburg, Germany to Ravensbrück concentration camp.
5 Feb 1945 Violette Szabo was executed at Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.
17 Dec 1946 Violette Szabo was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

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