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Heroes Of Our Time

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Women at War Series - Agents

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Fighting a war in secret


In a small office a cigar smoulders in an ashtray, someone sits pondering, their mind is adrift struggling with the concept of insecure poem codes, numbers, WOKs (Worked-Out Keys), LOPs (Letter one-time pad), silks, what tools can help protect an agent in the field?


Down the corridor, keys were a tapping, minds were deciphering, tired eyes were trying to battle the long hours translating the codes.  This was another side to the war where great minds were engulfed in numbers and codes, a vital component and unique fragment of a very secret life.  This very valued work was carried out by men and women alike, those that had the mathematical mind beyond most.  There were many departments involved and all were to play their most vital and brave role.


Whilst the mathematicians worked their wonders in code the Lysanders were warming up on the runways, waiting for secret missions heading out into the moonlight night, dropping the fearless agents, vital equipment and resources deep behind enemy lines.  As the parachutes silently fell through the open skies the landings had to be disguised, parachutes buried and as an added precaution snuff or pepper scattered to hide any evidence of their very existence from wandering enemy dogs on patrol.


A question you may ask is how anyone fell into the path of being an agent, especially as a woman at a time when such a role was not an everyday occurrence.  It took an exceptional character, brave, intelligent, strong minded, potentially charming and importantly possessing the skills of multiple languages.


Training would hone many skills, beyond just physical fitness was learning skills with armoury, explosives, wireless operation, codes, ciphers and that vital skill which perhaps could never be taught but instead had to be a natural instinct, deception in order to try to avoid capture.  Let alone those circumstances beyond what most of us thankfully have never had to encounter was the need to kill another just to survive, and it had to be done silently.


With training over those deemed suitable for this most dangerous role were to prepare to lead a new life, which would ultimately prove most challenging, daunting and unnerving, in preparation for which they had to learn every finer detail they would need to take on their new identity.   If they were not convincing or missed a minute detail their life would literally be on the line.


For the wireless operator role tasked with sending messages back on their scheduled times (sked) it was a dangerous time as their transmissions could be intercepted and detected by the enemy.  Capture was something to be avoided, as many that ended in the enemies hand were brutally treated, tortured, sent to concentration camps and in many cases lost their lives, many in horrendous and harrowing conditions more than words can ever describe. A lot of agents became victims of the night and fog decree a directive from Hitler.


Their work was to cause disruption working alongside many local resistance groups with the key objective being acts of sabotage on any level.


Targets such as railways, bridges and transport routes were the most dangerous to achieve.   Other important sites including factories creating German military parts, where they could infiltrate into and with the mainly cooperative workers or small cell groups subtly causing delays to much needed production which also played a vital role.  Communications channels and power lines were also prime targets but of course actions had reprisals and unfortunately innocent civilians would suffer as a result.  Of course, there were those who would turn a blind eye and put both themselves and their families at risk by sheltering or in some way assisting the work of resistant’s and agents, just to save their own country with the desperate hope of eventual freedom.


In the field their work was dangerous, with the foremost thought who can you really trust, betrayal was an everyday occurrence.  With the rumours and intel centered around an invasion into France and surrounding areas as part of D-Day, events and heightening tension were only escalating further, so it was time to invoke diversion tactics to move German troops away from intended allied target areas.


As the invasion began and parts of France and Europe as a whole began to rejoice in liberation those agents who had been working so tirelessly on the ground every day putting their very existence and nerves to the brink silently slipped away to begin a new chapter in their lives.   Many were never able to tell their stories of the most brave and heroic acts carried out within their own secret war.