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Sonia Purnell: A Woman of No Importance

4th December 2019
Venue: St Peter's Church, North St, Oundle PE8 4AL
Time: 7.45pm


This book is a true-life thriller and breath-taking account of female heroism in WWII. It is a rich, deeply researched exploration of how the most unlikely of spies defied all the odds to triumph over the Gestapo; and how one woman broke through convention and prejudice to save Allied intelligence in France.

In 1942, the Gestapo would stop at nothing to track down a mysterious 'limping lady' who was fighting for the freedom of France. The Nazi chiefs issued a simple but urgent command: 'She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.'

Their target was Virginia Hall, a glamorous American with a wooden leg who broke through the barriers against her gender and disability to be the first woman to infiltrate Vichy France for the SOE. In so doing she helped turn the course of the intelligence war.

Virginia recruited a brothel madam and a VD doctor as her lieutenants, directed teachers and farmers to blow up bridges and ambush enemy convoys, rescued numerous secret agents in some of the most daredevil jail breaks of the war, and brought in dozens of parachute drops of arms and explosives. Betrayed by a priest, her face was plastered across WANTED posters in the whole of France but she refused to evacuate, eluding the Nazis until she finally escaped in a death-defying crossing through the winter snows of the Pyrenees.

This is the epic tale of an heiress who determined that a hunting accident would not define her existence; a young woman who gambled her life to fight for the freedoms she believed in; an espionage novice who helped to light the flame of French Resistance.

Based on years of painstaking research and the release of previously secret sources, the incomparable story of Virginia Hall reveals how she confounded her detractors to become one of the greatest Allied agents of the war and an inspiration to her successors in the field to this day.

'Riveting ... one of the most breath-taking stories yet told of female courage behind enemy lines' Sarah Helm, author of A Life in Secrets

'A gripping, relevant and timely read about a remarkable woman from a talented writer' Deborah Frances-White, author of The Guilty Feminist

Sonia Purnell is a biographer and journalist who has worked for The Economist, Daily Telegraph, and Sunday Times. Her book First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill was chosen as a book of the year by the Daily Telegraph, Independent and Lenny Letter, and was shortlisted for the Plutarch Award for Best Biography. Her first book, Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition, was longlisted for the Orwell prize.

Tickets £8 (£6), £1 off early bird tickets bought before 26th November, available from the Oundle Box Office, 4 New Street, Oundle.

Open hours: 10.00am – 4.00pm Mon to Fri: Tel 01832 274734, online at www.oundlefestival.org.uk

Any queries call Helen on 07743988181 or email oundlelitfestival@hotmail.co.uk