Odette Hallowes-tortured and starved in Ravensbrück-And survived.

This is one of those amazing stories of resilience and perseverance.

Odette Sansom , aka Odette Churchill and Odette Hallowes, code named Lise, was an agent for the United Kingdom’s clandestine Special Operations Executive (SOE) in France during World War 2.

She was born on 28 April 1912 in Amiens, France.

She met an Englishman, Roy Patrick Sansom in Boulogne and married him in Boulogne-sur-Mer on 27 October 1931,moving with him to Britain. The couple had three daughters: Françoise Edith, born 1932 in Boulogne; Lili M, born 1934 in Fulham; and Marianne O, born 1936 in Fulham. Mr. Sansom joined the army at the beginning of the Second World War, and Odette Sansom and the children moved to Somerset for their safety.

In the spring of 1942, the Admiralty appealed for postcards or family photographs taken on the French coastline for possible war use. Hearing the broadcast, Odette wrote that she had photographs taken around Boulogne, but she mistakenly sent her letter to the War Office instead of the Admiralty. That brought her to the attention of Colonel Maurice Buckmaster’s Special Operations Executive.

Odette was recruited as a courier for the SPINDLE circuit of Special Operations Executive. She was a wife and mother of three who didn’t drink, smoke or swear, and to the casual observer she was quite ordinary, perhaps even boring. Yet she was a trained killer. She feared neither danger nor dagger, interrogation nor torture. She didn’t think twice about confronting German generals or commandants, and often placed principle before prudence. Like her colleagues in the SOE, she signed up for the war knowing that arrest (and execution) was a very real possibility—a fate that awaited almost one in two for F Section (France) couriers.

She was betrayed by a double agent, ‘Colonel Henri’ in April 1943. Colonel Henri was a German officer who claimed he wished to work for the allies. Despite, Odette’s suspicions, his involvement led to her arrest.

Arrested in 1943 by the gestapo, she was sent with fellow SOE agent Peter Churchill (no relation to the Prime Minister) to Fresnes Prison in Paris. At Fresnes, she was interrogated and tortured 14 times by the Gestapo, including having her toenails torn out, her back scorched by a red hot poker, and locked in a dark basement for 3 days at a time. During interrogation, she lied to the Gestapo agents saying Peter Churchill was her husband and the nephew of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to make the Germans believe she was a relative of Winston Churchill then she’d be kept alive as a bargaining tool.

In 1943, she was sentenced to death twice, to which she responded, “Then you will have to make up your mind on what count I am to be executed, because I can only die once.” Infuriated, the Gestapo agent sent her to Ravensbruck Camp. At Ravensbruck, she was kept on a starvation diet in a cell where other prisoners could be heard being beaten. After D-Day, all food was removed for a week, all light was blocked from her cell, and the heat was turned up. She was expected to die after a few weeks but instead only fell unconscious and was relocated to solitary confinement. As a child she’d been blind and bedridden from serious illnesses for 3.5 years, so the darkness didn’t bother her, and as she was considered a “difficult child” (likely due to her illnesses) during her convent education, she was used to starvation punishments. As the Allies approached Ravensbruck, the commandant drove her to a nearby American base to surrender, hoping to use Odette as a bargaining tool to escape execution.

She testified against the prison guards charged with war crimes at the 1946 Hamburg Ravensbrück Trials, which resulted in Suhren’s execution in 1950.Roy and Odette’s marriage was dissolved in 1946 and she married Peter Churchill in 1947.

Despite her appalling treatment, she was not over consumed with bitterness. Instead, after the war, she worked for various charities seeking to lessen the pain of war. For her service, she was awarded the George Cross. Her humility meant she was not keen on accepting the award, but she did accept it on behalf of all agents who suffered during the war. She briefly married, Peter Churchill, before marrying her third husband, Geoffrey Hallowes. She died in 1995 aged 83.

sources

https://www.biographyonline.net/military/odette-sanson.html

https://time.com/5502645/decorated-wwii-spy-odette/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odette_Hallowes#Recruited_by_SOE

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Bloody Sunday-1972

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Today marks the 47th anniversary of Bloody Sunday sometimes also referred to as the Bogside Massacre.

Sunday January 30th 1972 started as any other Sunday in Derry but would end with tragedy and a population thrown into a dark backlash of opinion towards the British.

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British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march against internment. Fourteen people died: thirteen were killed outright, while the death of another man four months later was attributed to his injuries. Many of the victims were shot while fleeing from the soldiers and some were shot while trying to help the wounded. Other protesters were injured by rubber bullets or batons, and two were run down by army vehicles.The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). The soldiers involved were members of the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, also known as “1 Para”.

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) organised a march to start at 3PM from the Bishops Field area of the Creggan. The march had already been deemed illegal by the British and from previous march’s the police force and the British proved too ruthless against peaceful demonstrators such as the attack on a civil rights march at Burntollet bridge.

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The plan for the march was to walk down Creggan Hill, into William Street and onto the Guildhall Square, in the City Centre area. Over 15,000 people attended the march which proceeded from Creggan. The marchers were singing songs with some describing it as a carnival like event. As they reached the William Street area the British Army had set-up barricades so the march was diverted into the Bogside and towards Free Derry Corner, a small area that  isolated itself from the Northern Ireland state known as as no-go area for the British forces.Despite this, a number of people continued on towards an army barricade where local youths threw stones at soldiers, who responded with a water cannon, CS gas and rubber bullets.

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As the riot began to disperse, soldiers of the 1st Parachute Regiment were ordered to move in and arrest as many of the rioters as possible. In the minutes that followed, some of these paratroopers opened fire on the crowd, killing thirteen men and injuring 13 others, one of whom died some months later.

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A large group of people fled or were chased into the car park of Rossville Flats. This area was like a courtyard, surrounded on three sides by high-rise flats. The soldiers opened fire, killing one civilian and wounding six others.This fatality, Jackie Duddy, was running alongside a priest, Father Edward Daly, when he was shot in the back.

 

 

While the British Army maintained that its troops had responded after coming under fire, the people of the Bogside saw it as murder. The British government was sufficiently concerned for the Home Secretary to announce the following day an official inquiry into the circumstances of the shootings.

Opinion was further polarised by the findings of this tribunal, led by the British Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery. His report exonerated the army and cast suspicion on many of the victims, suggesting they had been handling bombs and guns. Relatives of the dead and the wider nationalist community campaigned for a fresh public inquiry, which was finally granted by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998.

Headed by Lord Saville, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry took 12 years and finally reported in 2010. It established the innocence of the victims and laid responsibility for what happened on the army.

Prime Minister David Cameron called the killings “unjustified and unjustifiable”. The families of the victims of Bloody Sunday felt that the inquiry’s findings vindicated those who were killed, raising the question of prosecutions and compensation.

 

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