Ten operatives of the famous Special Operations Executive have their careers profiled in The Women Who Lived for Danger in as much depth as possible, considering the passage of time, the deaths of some principal characters, and the sometimes skimpy official files left from the home office.
The depth of bravery, ingenuity and chutzpah of these women punches a hole in the long-held theory (still sometimes put forth) that women cannot serve in full on military combat because they are incapable of performing with valor. From Alix D’unvieville to Violette Szabo to Noor Inayat Khan and others, these members of SOE made all lovers of freedom proud by enduring Gestapo torture with grace and determination, only to wind up giving the last full measure of their devotion to the cause by forfeiting their lives in concentration camps. Virginia Hall, Lise De Baissac, Pearl Witherington, Paddy O’Sullivan, Marguerite ‘Peggy’ Night and Paolo Del Din gave no less examples of courageous fortitude merely because they managed to survive the war, becoming ensconced in civilian life to varying degrees of happiness and success. Perhaps the strangest ending of all came for Christina Granville. Having outlived the war until 1952, she was tragically murdered by a knife in the back from a jilted lover (today we would say that he was an obsessed stalker).
While the passages concerning the actual heroic exploits of the SOE women are by turns exhilarating, poignant and amazing, at times the book becomes bogged down in the minutiae of operative training and details. It can be said that Binney is trying to provide an even-handed account of both the mundane and the inspiring aspects of their work. However, even the most ardent history lover may have a bit of trouble slogging through all of the descriptions.
Overall this is a “should read” for everyone from pro-feminist to misogynistic readers. The book compellingly illustrates that when faced with the direst of circumstances some women (even those who were first thought to be washouts by their trainers) can face perilous situations, brutal interrogation and even their own deaths with the admirable stoicism once thought only to be possessed by men.