21 August 2021

Book review: SOE Heroines: The Special Operations Executive's French Section and Free French Women Agents, by Bernard O’Connor

Available for pre-order from

It’s impossible to read this new book without being astounded by the bravery of these women, the true heroines of WW2. We follow them into an exciting world of secret training, codenames and amazing gadgets, yet all the time (like them) we know their stories are likely to end in tragedy.

The secret Special Operations Executive (SOE) personnel files are held in the National Archives, and only released into the public domain a hundred years after an agent’s death. WW2 espionage specialist Bernard O’Connor has done an impressive job of piecing together all the available evidence of what became of them.

We don’t know how many courageous women were parachuted into occupied France. The number could be as high as eighty.but all their activities had to be kept top secret, and a good number belonged to French and Soviet intelligence services.

Most readers might be familiar with the well-publicised accounts of the life of Odette Sansom (code named ‘Lise’) but sadly her survival of brutal interrogation and imprisonment in harsh conditions is a notable exception.

Odette Sansom in 1946
(Wikimedia Commons)

Although aware of it, I was shocked to read the documented details of the collaborators who betrayed entire SOE networks to certain death. Harrowing and at times disturbing, we must never forget what these heroines endured to shorten the war, and I can’t think of anyone better qualified than Bernard O’Connor to tell their stories.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Bernard O’Connor has lived and worked in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom, for over two decades. During this time he has taught Humanities in Secondary Schools and researched aspects of local geology, archaeology, history and natural history. When he discovered that an iguanodon had been dug up in Potton in 1866 he decided to locate the dinosaur. It sparked a decade investigating the impact of the UK’s coprolite industry; thought by many at the time to be fossilised dinosaur droppings. He has written accounts of every parish where coprolites were found, had articles published in academic magazines and given talks and lectures across East Anglia. Find out more at Bernard’s website http://bernardoconnor.org.uk/

Full Disclosure - A review copy of this book was kindly provided by the publishers, Amberley.

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