Spymistress: The Life of Vera Atkins, the Greatest Female Secret Agent of WW II

This is a long, dense but important non-fiction read. Atkins was recruited at the age of 23, in the 1930s in Britain, as a behind-the-scenes but absolutely crucial leader of the Special Operations Executive, a covert intelligence agency formed by and reporting to Winston Churchill. She trained dozens if not hundreds of agents — many of them young women like herself — who went behind enemy lines to aid local resistance fighters, destroy enemy targets,  help Allied pilots evade capture and radio information to London. 

The work, unlike what we in America later saw portrayed in 1960s television shows, was tedious, difficult, and often painful and deadly; many agents were tortured to death.

What was the most surprising and dismaying to me was learning how much other English agencies tried to actually hinder the SOE . . .  and how many Brits, in and out of high levels of government, were actually fans of Hitler if not actual neo-Nazis.


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