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(photo by Victoria Janashvili)
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The Last Living Female British Spy of World War II
Sonia Butt d’Artois joined the British armed forces after the German invasion of France in 1940. She hoped to have a taste of action on the front lines but instead, like most women of the time, she was relegated to desk duty.
Eventually adventure came calling as she was recruited by the Special Operations Executive, the British secret organization dedicated to reconnaisance, sabotage, and espionage across Nazi-occupied Europe. Mrs. d’Artois was highly sought after as a British citizen raised in France.
Mrs. d’Artois was to be trained to drop into Occupied France prior to D-Day and help the French Resistance, also known as the Maquis. And she would do this at the age of 19.
During her training she met Canadian Guy d’Artois, another SOE spy, whom she would marry. The duo would spend their first few months as a couple behind enemy lines, separated by miles, with the possibility of never seeing each other again.
Mrs. d’Artois’ mission nearly failed before it began as her trunk filled with clothing and supplies fell into Nazi hands even as she parachuted safely in nine days before D-Day. The trunk’s contents would reveal the presence of a woman spy in the region, giving the Gestapo a reason for heightened concerns. But it did nothing to stop Mrs. d’Artois. She met with the Maquis and taught them how to build and use explosives to destroy German trains, canals, and fuel dumps in an attempt to slow Nazi response to the Allied invasion of Normany on June 6, 1944.
Mrs. d’Artois’ constantly worried about having her identity cover revealed. But this did not stop her from Mrs. d’Artois taking huge risks by developing close relationships with German officers in order to obtain information, which included attending Nazi parties and dances. She became so close to the Germans that she was accused as a collaborator by the French and nearly had her head shaved until her allies in the Maquis came to her rescue.
In one of the closest scares, she was arrested and interrogated by the Germans for days, maintaining her cover through intense questioning and earning her release.
Just weeks later Mrs. d’Artois and another spy had escaped the SS, speeding over the bridge while under fire. When their car was disabled, the two took to the hills. Using impeccable forged documents they managed to criss-cross the countryside. However Mrs. d’Artois’ colleague was arrested and held by the Germans. When she realized he had left his coat and important papers in a cafe, she went to retrieve it only to be confronted by two members of the Gestapo who questioned, and then raped, her. Her colleague was released and they managed to provide valuable informaiton on troop locations and movements to the American military.
By the Autumn of 1944, Mrs. d’Artois was given leave to return home to England. In 1945 as the war came to a close she was recognized for her service with an appointment as MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and she was mentioned in dispatches for her bravery. She was still only 20 years old.
Mrs. d’Artois lived the rest of her life in Canada with her husband, Guy. (He earned the Distinguished Service Cross and Croix de Guerre for his service with the SOE.) She spent much of her time raising their six children – and protecting them. For instance, when her son was accosted by three men at his car. Mrs. d’Artois saw what was going on, came outside and physically assaulted the thieves, holding two for the police. By then she was in her 40s.
Sonia Butt d’Artois, known in the SOE as “Agent Blanche,” died on December 21, 2014 at the age of 90.
(Image of Sonia d’Artois training as an SOE agent, circa 1944, is courtesy of The Daily Telegraph and copyright of BPNS.CO.UK)
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