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Violette Reine Elizabeth SZABO, GC (Posthumously)

No. & Rank at the Time of Action: F/29, Ensign

Unit/Occupation: Women's Transport Service (FANY), attd. Special Operations Executive Formerly of the A.T.S

Date and Place of Birth: 26th June 1921, Levallois-Perret, France; nee Bushell

Family: Daughter of Charles George and Reine Blanche Bushell, Her mother was French, her father an Englishman, who had met his wife while serving in France during WW1. Wife of Lieut. Etienne Szabo, Croix de Guerre, Legion d’Honneur, Free French Forces, killed in action at El Alamein. 24th October, 1942.

Early Life: Within a few years her parents brought her back to England, eventually settling in Stockwell, South London. She was a popular girl, showing signs of courage at a very early age. Worked for Bon Marche store in Brixton when she was recruited to SOE.

Date and Place of GC Action: France 1944

The London Gazette: 17th December 1946

Citation: "The KING has been graciously pleased to award the GEORGE CROSS to: -

Violette, Madame SZABO (deceased), Women’s Transport Service (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry).

Madame Szabo volunteered to undertake a particularly dangerous mission in France. She was parachuted into France in April, 1944, and undertook the task with enthusiasm. In her execution of the delicate researches entailed she showed great presence of mind and astuteness. She was twice arrested by the German security authorities, but each time managed to get away. Eventually, however, with other members of her group, she was surrounded by the Gestapo in a house in the south west of France. Resistance appeared hopeless but Madame Szabo, seizing a Sten gun and as much ammunition as she could carry, barricaded herself in part of the house and, exchanging shot for shot with the enemy, killed or wounded several of them. By constant movement, she avoided being cornered and fought until she dropped exhausted. She was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously and atrociously tortured but never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances or told the enemy anything of any value. She was ultimately executed. Madame Szabo gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness."

Croix de Guerre : REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE: CITATION

EXTRAIT DE L'ORDRE GENERAL No 3

Le Colonel RIVIER,

Commandant la 5 Region des Forces Francaises, de l'Interieur de la 12 Region Militaire

CITE A L'ORDRE DE LA DIVISION

Enseigne TAYLOR Vicky Alias SZABO Violette - Corps Feminin F.A.N.Y

"Parachutee le 7 juin 1944 en France, stoppee au cours d'une mission de liaison le 10 juin a Salon-la-Tour (Correze) par un barrage allemand. A refuse de se render et s'est battue a l'aide de sa mitraillette pendant vingt minutes, tuant un caporal allemand. A du se render faute de munitions. Emprisonnee a LimQges le 11 Juin, disparue le 12 Juin."

Ces citations comportent l'attribution de la Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 avec etoile d'argent.

Au Q.G., le 16 septembre 1944

Signe': RIVIER

(Parachuted into France on 7 June 1944, she was stopped by a German road block at Salon-la-Tour [Correze] on 10 June while undertaking a liaison mission. Refusing to give herself up she fought with her sub-machine gun for twenty minutes, killing a German corporal. She eventually had to give up for lack of ammunition. Imprisoned at Limoges on 11 June, she disappeared on 12 June. This citation awards the Croix de Guerre 1939/45 with Silver Star.)

Account of Deed: In April 1944, Madame Szabo acted as a courier to a Frenchman who had survived the break-up of his circuit based on Rouen and was trying to reconstitute a group in this strategically important area. She had to travel from Paris to Rouen, contacting certain people believed to have remained unmolested and report back to her chief in Paris. She accomplished this dangerous task successfully and after about six weeks returned to England. On D-Day plus one she was dropped into France again and soon afterwards, with her guide, a young Frenchman, was ambushed by a German patrol and wounded. She insisted that her guide should escape while he could, and she herself was captured and taken first to Limoges and then to Paris. After brutal interrogations over several weeks when she divulged nothing, she was put on a train for Germany. On the journey while an air raid was in progress and the guards ran for shelter, she managed, despite being chained by the ankle to another prisoner, to carry a bottle of water to badly wounded British officers in a cattle truck. Imprisonment at Ravensbruck followed and then two spells in labour camps, working under impossible conditions, but Madame Szabo was eventually returned to Ravensbruck and executed there.

Remarks: Joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1941 and served as a Predictor Number with 481 (M) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery There was some debate and correspondence in the mid-1960s following a campaign by Dame Irene Ward MP to have Violette’s award of the GC changed to the Victoria Cross. It was felt that the full details of Violette’s gallantry were not submitted in her recommendation. The gazetted citation contains a major error in that she did not barricade herself in a house.

Additional Information: When the second world war began, Violette met a Captain in the French Foreign Legion, Etienne Szabo. Within a few weeks, on the 21st August 1940 they were married. Etienne was posted abroad, Violette saw nothing of him for a year. He returned for seven days leave, they met in Liverpool and spent his leave together. Violette became pregnant, it was the last time she saw him alive. He was killed in North Africa. Time passed, her daughter Tania was born. Violette received a letter from a Mr E Potter asking her to to attend an interview at an office in London. When she arrived at the office, she was shown up to a bare room with a table and two chairs. Mr Potter suggested that her knowledge of France and fluency in French could be useful. He explained that he was looking for people to do 'dangerous work' in occupied France. "You mean spying?" she asked. "No, not spying - but similar", he said. "We want people with special qualities to be trained and go into enemy occupied territory to make life very unpleasant for the Germans". She agreed immediately, but Mr Potter would not accept that, he wanted to run security checks on her and he wanted her to give it some serious thought. She returned a week later and again gave him the same answer. Then began her training. Violette went into France twice. On the second occasion she was captured after a shoot-out in which she killed several German soldiers. After torture and interrogation in which she gave nothing away, she was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was eventually shot through the back of the neck with two other women SOE agents, Lillian Rolfe and Denise Bloch. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre in 1946.

The poem she used to encypher her messages has become famous through the book and film

'Carve her name with Pride'. It was written by Leo Marks, later to become a famous scriptwriter. Here is the poem,

The life that I have is all that I have,

And the life that I have is yours.

The love that I have of the life that I have,

Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have,

A rest I shall have,

Yet death will be but a pause,

For the peace of my years in the long green grass,

Will be yours and yours and yours.

Final Rank: Ensign

Other Decorations/Medals: Violette Szabo's medal group is GC, 1939-45 Star, France & Germany Star, War Medal, Croix de Guerre avec etoile d'argent (with Silver Star). (Fr)

GC Location/Sale History:

Date and Place of Death: Between 25th January 1945 and 5th February 1945, Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, Germany. Age 23

Cause of Death: Executed by her German captors

Burial/Cremation: Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, Germany

Obituary:

Memorials: The Brookwood Memorial, Surrey; Panel Number 26. Column 3. Plaque in Lambeth Town Hall, London. A further memorial to Violette Szabo was unveiled on the 6th June 2000 in the French village of Sussac by her daughter Tania. A Museum in Herefordshire is now dedicated to Violette, see links page.

Her name is on the FANY Memorial, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London.

Plaque unveiled at Ravensbruck in June 1993

Plaque on 18 Burnley Road, Stockwell, London unveiled on the 27th June 1981

A biographical film, ‘Carve her name with pride’, starring Virginia McKenna was made in 1958

Display at Tangmere Military Aviation Museum

A Poster on the London Underground, Victoria Line, November 2004

Source: Creative: Chas Bayfield  Design: Kerve.com

Town/County Connections: Brixton, London

Correspondence: From Chas Bayfield November 2004

VICTORIA CROSSES ON THE VICTORIA LINE

A tribute to the courage of men and women who have been awarded Britain's highest honours will be paid in a series of posters on London's underground from Monday 8 November. Created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the winning of the first Victoria Cross, the series of information posters will tell of the exploits of the winners of both the VC and its non-combat equivalent the George Cross.

The project is the idea of advertising creative Chas Bayfield whose great-great uncle (Duncan Boyes VC RN) is one of the VC holders featured in the ten different posters. Each one tells of the dramatic circumstance that led to the award of Britain's most famous medals. Extraordinary stories of 'conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice' are told simply in a few words with a photographic portrait of the medal winner.

"In the week that we commemorate the victims of too many wars and conflicts, it is good to be able to tell stories of courage and self-sacrifice," says Chas Bayfield. "Researching this project has given me a haunting insight into the way in which the human spirit can rise above the most horrible of circumstances.

"It delights me to think that the bored traveller on the underground will happen across these posters and read the inspirational stories."