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Pauline Witherington Cornioley - Wartime agent

Born to British parents living in Paris, young Pearl Witherington managed to shepherd her fatherless family to Spain and onto a boat to Liverpool after the Germans invaded France. But she was bored working at the Air Ministry, and went to SOE headquarters demanding a more interesting job.

Her wish was amply fulfilled. As she spoke perfect French she was taken on, and trained in combat and sabotage. She had been a Girl Guide so she knew how to fire a gun, and in September 1943, she parachuted into France from an RAF Halifax. Her specific mission was to act as a courier and to remain silent under interrogation for 48 hours if captured so her network had time to escape.

She seemed to have a sixth sense about the Gestapo, had no hesitation about wading freezing rivers, and survived a number of harrowing encounters with the Germans. After a year she was leading 1,500 (later 3,000) resistance fighters, including the man she was later to marry, Henry Cornioley. They blew up railway lines and disrupted German supply routes expeditiously.

The Germans put a price of one million francs on her head, but she lived to tell the tale in her autobiography, Pauline. Eventually she received all the honours that were her due.

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