Christine Granville, Churchill’s Favorite Spy, Willl Be Honored in London

A Polish Countess Krystyna Skarbek is to be honored for her wartime exploits by having a bronze bust unveiled at the Polish Hearth Club in London.  Skarbek was so angry at the German invasion of her homeland that she traveled to England and demanded that the Secret Service employ her, which they did under the nom de plume, Christine Granville.  She was the first and the longest serving of the women agents used during the war, but her treatment at the hands of the authorities after the war was disgraceful, to say the least.

Details of her exploits and the astounding work that she did for the Allies during WWII would have been lost forever if it had not been for authoress Clare Mulley who penned a biography of this amazing women and published it under the title “The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville”  in 2013.

Mulley told an interview with The Guardian, “She was a remarkable woman, it is ludicrous that she is not better known.  That is not to take anything from all the other women and men who served, all their stories are fantastic, but her story is incredible, and she has just not been honored as she should be.”

The list of her achievements during the war is long and distinguished.

She managed to acquire the first evidence in the form of microfilm footage of the German plans, codenamed Operation Barbarossa, to invade Russia.  She hid the microfilm in the finger of her gloves and then skied out of Poland carrying the plans all the way to the Allies.  This information arrived on the desk of Winston Churchill, and he became an ardent admirer who, according to his daughter Sarah, called Granville ‘his favorite spy.’

The Special Operations Executive sent her into France in 1944 as part of a specialist team that was designated to prepare the way for the liberation of Europe. She traveled extensively and made the first contact with the French Resistance and the Italian Partisans.  She then went on to single-handedly convince an entire German garrison protecting a strategic alpine pass to surrender.

Shortly after that, she learned that one of her SOE colleagues along with two French Resistance fighters had been arrested by the Germans and that the Gestapo had plans to execute the three men.  She attempted to organize a rescue that was unsuccessful, so she set off on her bicycle to cycle the 25 miles to the camp.  There she convinced the Gestapo, with exaggerated claims of how close the Allied forces were, and that she would personally arrange to have the Gestapo officers shot if the three men were not released immediately.

During the war, she was awarded many medals including the French Croix de Guerre, the OBE, and the George Medal but they meant nothing when the end of the war came, and she was discarded by the British.  In her file at the National Archives is a damning piece of evidence; a piece of paper saying ‘she is no longer wanted.’  She was refused British citizenship, even though the authorities were well aware that she could no longer return to Poland as it was under Soviet control.

She eventually convinced the British authorities to grant her British citizenship, but she was left almost destitute. The only job that she could get was as a cleaner on passenger liners and when the captain encouraged all the staff to wear their medals no-one would believe that she had earned every one of the chest full that she displayed.  The only member of the crew that believed she had earned her medals was a fellow steward, Dennis Muldowney, with whom she had a relationship.

The relationship with Muldowney failed but he could not accept her rejection, and he began to stalk her.   On the 15th June 1952 at the Shelbourne Hotel, Muldowney stabbed her to death; a horrific death for a very brave lady.

Clare Mulley’s husband, renowned artist Ian Wolter, created the bust of Skarbek.  In a tribute to her heritage, he used soil from Poland and soil from a park in London that was used to train Polish agents during WWII in the bust.  The bust was placed at the Polish Hearth Club as this is where Skarbek would recount stories of her exploits during the war with fellow Polish refugees, The Guardian reported.

The film rights to Clare Mulley’s book have been sold, and rumors are that Angelina Jolie is interested in picking this up as a project.  Mulley is hopeful that this develops successfully, saying “Fingers crossed … I want a worthy, brilliant film; I really want her honored properly.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE