Female Agents Behind Enemy Lines: Christine Granville — Part 3

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Part 3 and Part 4 of this series of Female Agents Behind Enemy Lines, will focus on two women who both had a hatred of the Nazis and yet thrived on the adventure of war. It suited both their personalities, whereas some agents were quiet, unassuming people who hardly moved around as these women did, yet still played a vital role.

After all, a young woman sitting at a window while knitting, their stitches denoting military movements, was extremely important, but that sort of thing was not for these two ladies. Both women were extremely beautiful and glamorous, something they put to good use when needed to charm the enemy.

Christine Granville

Krystyna Skarbek, better known in England as Christine Granville, was a Polish secret agent who worked for MI6 and later for SOE. She is often called Churchill’s favourite spy. She was born in 1915, the daughter of a Polish aristocrat and his Jewish wife and was baptized Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek. She was well-connected, fearless, and an adventurer.

While still quite young, she entered into a short-lived marriage before embarking on a relationship with Jerzy Gizycki, a diplomat whom she would marry in November 1938. Whilst the couple were still in Ethiopia, Germany invaded Poland and upon hearing the news of the German invasion, Christine and her husband travelled to London where she offered her services as a spy. Naturally, the powers that be were skeptical as most members of the secret service were recruited, but undaunted, she was able to arrange a meeting with George Taylor of MI6 and convinced him of her usefulness before divulging a plan which involved her travelling to Budapest in Hungary.

At the time, Hungary was still officially neutral. There, she would produce propaganda to disseminate before skiing across the Tatra mountain range to enter Poland where she could open up lines of communication with the resistance. An accomplished skier, this proved useful as she planned to use her friends in the local area to assist her in undertaking missions to help the resistance fighters in Poland. MI6 was impressed by her patriotism and spirit and thus recruited her as the first female spy.

In December 1939, while in Budapest, Christine met fellow agent, Andrzej Kowerski, a Polish war hero who had lost his leg and the two instantly connected and started an affair that lasted on and off for many years, finally leading to her divorce from Gizycki. Whilst their passionate affair would last, they never married but both showed a dedication to their undercover work never faltered.

Christine made several important journeys, skiing in and out across the Polish-Hungarian border to bring back intelligence as well as money, weaponry, and even escapees. Her intelligence work proved vital as she was able to assemble information and gain photographs of German troops on the Soviet Union border at a time when the two powers had supposedly agreed to a non-aggression pact. She also brought back other intelligence as well as money, weaponry, and escapees.

 

Her activities had been noted by the authorities and a reward for her capture was offered across Poland. In January 1941 both Christine and Andrzej were discovered by the Gestapo and arrested in Hungary. Two days into their interrogation, Cristina decided to bite her tongue so that she began to produce blood in her mouth, indicating that she might be suffering from TB. This ruse, used by many others with the Germans, worked and both were released due to the fear of tuberculosis which is extremely contagious. Upon their release, they were given British passports and new identities. That is when she became known as Christine Granville whilst Andrzej adopted the name Andrew Kennedy. They were smuggled out of Hungary and into Yugoslavia and then, hidden in the boots of two cars, fled Nazi-occupied Europe to the safety of SOE headquarters in Egypt.

 

In July 1944, working with SOE, and using another code name, Pauline Armand, she went back to France where she performed some of the most daring feats of the war, notably walking into Gestapo Headquarters in France and demanding the release of three captured British agents and French officers whilst still carrying broken crystals for a radio in her bag. With the assistance of a Belgian operator, as well as a bribe of two million francs, the daring feat paid off. One must also remember that the invasion of Normandy had taken place at this time. She told the captors that the war was lost and she would note they had been “helpful” when the end came, so maybe they thought it wise to accept the money and let the prisoners go; a fact that would have amounted to treason by the Germans.

A cool character, she bluffed her way through situations with ease.

Bill Stanley Moss, a friend of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Xan Fielding, (famous for their abduction of General Kreip in Occupied Crete and which would later be made into a film – Ill Met by Moonlight) noted that she “thrived on danger”. Although she was married, her affairs in the field were notorious, not least that with Francis Cammaerts – codename ‘Roger’, one of F section’s best agents.

After the war, Christina, still an attractive woman, easily attracted prospective partners.

One of them was rumoured to be British spy novelist, Ian Fleming who is said to have used Christine as inspiration for his James Bond character, Vesper Lynd in “Casino Royale” and Tatiana Romanova in “From Russia with Love”. She tried to get work working in the diplomatic service, but that was not to be. She applied to work for the British United Nations mission in Geneva and was turned down for not being English.

Forced to live in a house run by the Polish Relief Society whilst she looked for regular work, her life had gone from one of excitement to boredom. As she waited for her British citizenship, she undertook menial employment as a housekeeper, shop girl, and switchboard operator. Without regular employment, she worked on a cruise ship as a stewardess where she caught the interest of fellow ship worker, Dennis Muldowney.

It was to be her downfall. Sadly, Muldowny was a jealous lover and began stalking her. On 15th June 1952, she left her hotel room ready to meet up with her long-time lover, Kowerski. When Muldowney saw the suitcases he confronted her. In a rage, he proceeded to stab her in the chest, killing her in the hallway. He pleaded guilty to her death and was hanged ten weeks later.

A tragic end for a woman who had been so brave.
Christine was awarded the George Medal, the OBE, and the Croix de Guerre.

 

Further reading:
The Spy who loved by Clare Mulley


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About the Contributor

Kathryn Gauci

I am a textile designer and author of historical fiction living in Melbourne, Australia. I am also a Francophile and visit France frequently for pleasure and research. My interests range from history to the arts, food, & of course, the French way of life.

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