Female Agents

On the night of April 24, 1942 Lise de Baissac was parachuted behind German lines into occupied France near the town of Poiters, south of the Loire. De Baissac was an agent for England’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) established by Churchill to work with the French Resistance. Her mission was to set up a safe house for a group of British trained agents to be sent to France.

She returned to London on August 16, 1943 just before the Germans discovered her “circuit” in Poitiers. Undeterred, she returned to France in April of the following year to work with another SOE group. A leader in the British Special Forces group of World War II wrote that in risking her life every day she played an indispensible role in aiding the guerilla groups of the French Resistance who inflicted heavy losses on the German forces.

Lise de Baissac died in 2004 ago at the age of 98. Her exploits were the inspiration for the film, Female Agents (Les Femmes de l’Ombre) that I saw recently. The film is reported to have won critical praise in France for recognizing the role of women resistance fighters during the War. The film’s director said, he first thought of making the film after reading de Baissac’s obituary in The Times of London.

The plot is complex but in a word four women are parachuted into occupied France in May of 1944 on a mission to protect the details of the forthcoming Allied landing and kill a colonel in a German counter-intelligence unit who is on the verge of learning its location. The Germans have captured an English geologist who had studied the beaches of Normandy and might therefore be forced (i.e., tortured) into revealing the plans.

They join a fifth woman who is already undercover with the Resistance. There are failed night-time shootouts, regroupings, the suicide of the captured brother of the group’s leader, harrowing torture scenes, the capture and subsequent killing of four of the original group of five women, and finally the successful assassination of the German colonel by the woman playing of role of Lise de Bassac, the only surviving member of the original group.

I write about this film out of admiration for these individuals whose convictions meant enough to them to put their lives at risk. In fact, I marvel at such individuals. The fact that they were women is less important to me, although it is clear they never achieved the recognition that men did.

Lise de Baissac was one of the few to be recognized. She was awarded a Legion d’Honneur, the highest decoration in France, and the Croix de Guerre, a French military decoration. In Britain she was honored with a MBE, a member of the Order of the British Empire.

The film ends as the fictional de Baissac lights four candles in a church in remembrance of the four who didn’t survive.