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Code Name Pauline

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Code Name Pauline
Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent
By Pearl Witherington Cornioley
With Hervé Larroque
Edited by Kathryn J. Atwood
Chicago Review Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61374-487-1

A History in Review Book of the Week Selection

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - July 29, 2013

Pearl Witherington (1914-2008) was a young French woman who joined the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II. After completing her training as an SOE operative, Pearl was parachuted behind enemy lines, to begin her assignment in Nazi occupied France. She was twenty-nine-years-old when she embarked upon her career as a spy. In France she worked as a courier, carrying messages, acting as a guide to various people, and sending messages to England via illegal radios. If she had been caught, the best she could have hoped for was a quick death. However, a more likely scenario was that she would have been interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo. If she survived the interrogation, she most likely would have been shot or sent to a concentration camp. Pearl was fortunate. She spent seven months working in France for the SOE - and survived to tell her story...

Code Name Pauline is Pearl's story of her time in the SOE. It explores her reasons for joining the organization, her training, and her experiences behind enemy lines in France were she also served as a resistance leader. This book examines what her life was like after the war. In the process of telling her own story, Pearl provides readers with a glimpse into what it was like for other agents - some who were not as fortunate as she was. Her story also helps readers to understand the different types of work done by agents for the various intelligence services, including the Secret Inelligence Services - SIS and MI6.

In writing this book, Pearl was aided by her husband, Henri Cornioley, who worked with her in France. Whenever Pearl found that her memory of certain events had faded, Henri stepped in to fill in the gaps. What I found most interesting about this book is that Pearl, while working under the codename Pauline, served as a resistance leader with more than 3,500 men working under her leadership. This was at a time when there were very few women serving in leadership positions in the French resistance movement, despite the fact that (by some accounts) more than 20% of all resistance fighters were women!

As you read this book, you will notice that it is not written in a traditional narrative style. Rather, it comes across more like question and answer banter. That is because large segments of this book are based upon interviews conducted by Hervé Larroque, a French reporter, with Pearl and Henri. In editing this book for an English audience, Kathryn J. Atwood simply incorporated Hervé's questions into the narration in order to allow Pearl to tell her story in her own words with the minimum of alterations.

Although written for the young adult audience, Code Name Pauline will enthrall readers of all ages. In addition, those seeking to delve more deeply into Pearl's story, and into those of other intelligence operatives, will find a wealth of supplemental information in the book. This supplemental information includes a list of key figures in Pearl's story, along with short biographies of each personage. Also included are extracts from Hervé's original interviews, including one extract in which Henri tells his own story. Henri's story briefly covers his life before the war, his tenure and escape from a prisoner of war camp, and his activities working in the French resistance. The book also includes photographs, endnotes, and a brief bibliography that lists books about the French resistance during the war and the work of the SOE, as well as several biographies of other agents that served behind enemy lines during the war. Code Name Pauline deserves a place in all school libraries, and it is sure to interest anyone intrigued by stories of espionage and courageous individuals who willingly risked their lives to defend their homelands.


Related Reviews:

Secret Agent: The True Story of the Covert War Against Hitler, by David Stafford.
This riveting book offers the readers an in-depth look at ultra-secret World War II 'spy' organization called the Special Operations Executive. Details range from the groups formation, to the work that it carried out during the war, along with detailed profiles of its agents and auxiliary staff.

The Jedburghs: The Secret History of the Allied Special Forces, France 1944, by Lt. Col. Will Irwin (Ret).
Irwin not only provides a general overview of the Jedburghs history and their training, but he also provides riveting accounts of their hair-raising missions, battles, and close-calls where they had to dodge not only German troops and the Gestapo, but also collaborators who could easily have blown their cover.

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