The prestigious book launch of Sonia Purnell's biography of Virginia Hall - A Woman Of No Importance - was held at Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly. The event was not only attended by this Charity's Trustee Paul McCue and our great friends SOE biographer Clare Mulley, plus SOE researchers Steven Kippax and Nick Fox ... but also by the acclaimed actress Juliet Stevenson CBE - who in fact has recorded the audiobook version of Sonia's book.
What's more, Sonia had kindly included the name of our co-founder, Martyn Cox, in the book's acknowledgements - although he only recalls giving her a modest amount of help with her early research!
Virginia Hall's clandestine career had started when she became a WW2 secret agent in France for SOE. By 1944 she'd joined its American equivalent, the OSS, and post-war she was a founding member of its successor, the CIA.
Sonia's biography has received considerable acclaim and success ....
A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
The incredible untold story of Virginia Hall, an American woman with a wooden leg who infiltrated Occupied France for the SOE and became the Gestapo's most wanted Allied spy, written by acclaimed biographer Sonia Purnell.
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.'
The Gestapo's 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.
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 new and extensive research, Sonia Purnell has for the first time uncovered the full secret life of Virginia Hall, an astounding and inspiring story of heroism, spycraft, resistance and personal triumph over shocking adversity.
'Purnell's account of Hall's hectic, amphetamine-fuelled exploits never falters. It recalls Caroline Moorehead's wonderful book, Village of Secrets but has an added touch of Ben Macintyre's brio ... A rousing tale of derring-do' The Times Book of the Week
'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 written for The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, and The Sunday Times. Her book First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchillwas a book of the year in the Daily Telegraph, the 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.
Purnell's account of Hall's hectic, amphetamine-fuelled exploits never falters. It recalls Caroline Moorehead's wonderful book, Village of Secrets, about defiance of the Nazis in Vichy France, but has an added touch of Ben Macintyre's brio ... It is a pleasure to read a biography in which the author admires her subject so warmly. This might so easily have been a pernickety, fact-finding book, but instead it is a rousing tale of derring-do. Men, women and tomboys will all enjoy the courage and initiative of Virginia Hall — Richard Davenport-Hines, The Times, Book of the Week
In a riveting narrative that both astonishes and intrigues, Sonia Purnell presents one of the most breath-taking stories yet told of female courage behind enemy lines. For too long, the world ignored the role played by women in resisting Nazi occupation across Europe. As Purnell reveals, however, none of these unsung heroines were more steely than Virginia Hall, a young American - known as 'the limping lady' - whose readiness for self-sacrifice in the face of near certain death is all the more impressive given her own physical disability. The strength of this book lies not only in Purnell's intimate and moving portrayal of Virginia's secret work - holding her nerve even as she is hunted down in Klaus Barbie's Lyon - but also in the new light shed on the betrayal, bravery and bungling of Churchill's Special Operations Executive for which Virginia worked.
Some of SOE's most celebrated male agents would later acknowledge that their own lives had depended solely on this young woman's sense of "duty to survive" — Sarah Helm, author of If This Is A Woman and A Life In Secrets
What a fascinating story! Unbroken by a shooting accident that resulted in her left leg being amputated below the knee, Baltimore socialite Virginia Hall was determined to make a difference in World War II. With careful research and skilful writing, Sonia Purnell, in A Woman of No Importance, takes you deep into the covert operations Hall led in Nazi-occupied France, first for the British and then for the Americans. Readers will find this tale of her cunning and courage riveting — Douglas Waller, author of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage
Impressively researched and compellingly written, this brilliant biography puts Virginia Hall - and her prosthetic leg Cuthbert - back where they belong: right in the heart of resistance history — Clare Mulley, author of The Spy Who Loved and The Women Who Flew for Hitler
A gripping, relevant and timely read about a remarkable woman from a talented writer — Deborah Frances-White, author of The Guilty Feminist
Remarkable ... this lively examination... shows how, if Hall had been a man, dropping undercover in and out of occupied Vichy, Paris, and Lyon, setting up safe houses, and coordinating couriers for the Resistance, she would now be as famous as James Bond... Meticulous research results in a significant biography of a trailblazer who now has a CIA building named after her — Kirkus Reviews
Purnell vividly resurrects an underappreciated hero and delivers an enthralling story of wartime intrigue...fans of WWII history and women's history will be riveted — Publishers Weekly It is a marvel that Purnell has discovered so much. It is a pleasure to read a biography in which the author admires her subject so warmly . . . a rousing tale of derring-do. Men, women and tomboys will all enjoy the courage and initiative of Virginia Hall. — The Times