I am delighted to have added the iconic medal group of Violette Szabó to my collection of gallantry awards. Szabó is one of the most courageous woman who has ever lived, being awarded a posthumous George Cross (GC) for her astounding bravery as a Special Operations Executive (SOE) member during the Second World War. Her medal group was purchased at a Dix Noonan Webb auction in London yesterday and will soon go on display at Imperial War Museum London.
By any standards, Szabó had a quite remarkable life. She was born Violette Bushell in Paris on June 26 1921: her father was English, her mother French and the couple had met when he was serving in France during the First World War. The family finally settled in Stockwell, south London, from 1932 and, having left school at 14, Szabó worked as a shop assistant prior to the outbreak of the war.
In October 1941, Szabó joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and she was later recruited to the SOE, proving a natural for the secretive work they carried out as she spoke fluent French and was athletic, adventurous and self-confident.
Her first mission took place in April 1944, two months before D-Day, when, by now widowed with a young daughter, she was dropped in France to act as a courier for a French resistance leader. She carried out the mission bravely and competently. Her second mission, in June 1944, was to again to aid the resistance but it was even more dangerous.
After getting involved in a fierce gun battle with German soldiers to enable a French resistance leader to escape, Szabó eventually ran out of ammunition and was captured. Over the coming months, the conditions she was held in went from bad to worse and time and again she was brutally tortured, but she provided her captors with nothing of relevance.
She was finally shot in the back of the neck, along with two other women prisoners, in late January or early February 1945, while being held at a concentration camp in Germany. She was just 23. Szabó’s posthumous GC was awarded on December 17 1946.
I first learnt the details of Szabó’s astonishing bravery while researching my book, George Cross Heroes, five years ago and my admiration for her was immense. I now feel proud and humbled to be the custodian of this courageous woman’s medal group and I am delighted that this group will soon be on public display so that thousands of people will learn of her gallantry.
Lord Ashcroft’s VC and GC collection is on public display at Imperial War Museums, London. For more information, visit www.iwm.org.uk/heroes.
For details about his VC collection, visit www.lordashcroftmedals.com.
For more information on his book George Cross Heroes, visit www.georgecrossheroes.com.