Lord Ashroft adds another George Cross Medal to his collection – that of WWII heroine Violette Szabo – which he bought for a record breaking £312,000. The George Cross was part of the several medals the WWII heroine received for her work as a spy and that went under the auction gavel recently. The sale surpassed the highest current record of £93,000.
Knowing the WWII Heroine
Violette Szabo was one of the the only four women who were given the George Cross. Odette Sansom, a fellow British SOE spy and a recipient of the George Cross, even acknowledged that the WWII heroine was the “bravest of them all”.
Beautiful and brave Violette Szabo was a British spy who worked on several highly-dangerous missions in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. The WWII heroine was captured by the enemy when she chose to let a comrade escape while she face them head on. She was violently tortured before the Germans decided to end her life by shooting her at the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany early 1945.
The 23-year-old WWII heroine joined the Land Army first after the outbreak of WWII working as a strawberry picker and later on, at an anti-aircraft battery. Then, the death of husband at the hands of the Germans at El Alamein in 1942 happened.
Deciding to avenge his death, Violette got herself involved with the Special Operations Executive [SOE].
Her first solo mission – two months before D-Day [April of 1944] – took her to Cherbourg on a parachute. She was tasked to assess the condition of a network of SOE agents. The WWII heroine also had to gather as much information as she could about the factories that were producing war materials for the Nazis so that the Allies could bomb them.
The WWII heroine got arrested twice by the Germans during that time but as they believed her cover story, they also let her go on both occasions. And before she was picked up for home, Violette dared to go shopping in Paris where she bought her daughter back home, Tania, an expensive dress.
Two days after the Normandy Landings, Violette embarked on her second mission. The WWII heroine parachuted to southwest France reportedly kissing the whole crew of the Liberator aircraft before she jumped off to her destination.
Tasked with sabotaging Nazi communication lines, she, along with French resistance fighter Jacques Dufour and several others, drove to Dordogne in haste. But then, they were stopped by a German checkpoint located near Limoges.
Realizing that their cover was blown, Violette and Jacques ran into a nearby wheat field all the while fighting against their pursuers with their Sten guns. They crawled through the field for sometime until the WWII heroine, exhausted and suffering from an injured ankle, urged her companion to make his escape as she engage the enemy.
“She insisted she wanted me to try and get away, that there was no point in my staying with her. So I went on while she kept firing,” Dufour said later on.
Carve Her Name with Pride [1958 Film about Violette Szabo]
Violette engaged the enemy in a gunfight for nearly thirty minutes before she was captured as she ran out of ammunition. A local eyewitness had said how the WWII heroine spit at a SS officer’s face when she was hauled up to face him.
Taken to Limoges and then Paris, Violette underwent brutal torture until she was transferred to the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp August of 1944. Here, the WWII heroine continued to be defiant even going as far as leading her fellow inmates to sing The Lambeth Walk in a bid to boost their morale to the consternation of the camp’s brutal guards. Eventually, she was executed, shot dead early – January or February – 1945.
December the following year, the WWII heroine was posthumously awarded the George Cross by King George VI. Her daughter, Tania, was the one who took it on her behalf during a private ceremony in Buckingham Palace. She was only four years old then.
It was also Tania who placed her mother’s medals on sale.
According to her, putting her mother’s war decorations was a very difficult decision to make as she supported the gallantry of the WWII heroine for years now.
However, she had to, with much regret, as she doesn’t “have any children and therefore the ongoing custodianship of Violette’s medals needs to be addressed”. Her future security also came into play when it came to her decision to sell the lot.
Nevertheless, with Lord Ashcroft purchasing her mother’s medals, Tania Szabo is confident that the medals in recognition of the bravery of the WWII heroine will be taken great care of.
Actress Virginia McKenna who played the WWII heroine in the 1958 war classic Carve Her Name with Pride was also present when the auction took place.
She said that the lot did sell for quite a huge amount but the price was worth it as the woman they were given to led an exemplary life as a WWII servicewoman.
“It deserves to be seen by people in memory of this extraordinary woman,” the actress added.
Aside from the George Cross, the auctioned lot of the WWII heroine included a French Croix de Guerre as well as three other campaign medals. The lot also featured a parachute bag, documents and photos some of which were unseen until the time of the auction.