Professor bringing tales of WWII female spies to Bethany Beach

Women were long prevented from holding combat roles in the U.S. armed forces. But they’ve long helped in military affairs, even behind enemy lines. Audiences will hear the story of “The Lady Was a Spy: Female Operatives in World War II” on Tuesday, May 29, from 4 to 5 p.m. at South Coastal Library.

“‘The Lady Was a Spy’ focuses on the lives and experiences of these brave women, many of whom died in completing their missions, to highlight their unconventional contributions to victory in World War II,” according to Delaware Humanities, which helped fund the program.

“I’m fascinated by these unconventional women,” said guest speaker Linda De Roche.

She discusses Virginia Hall, who couldn’t be parachuted behind enemy lines because of her wooden leg and who eventually had a Nazi death warrant on her head.

Then there’s Christine Granville, one of Winston Churchill’s favorites, who “wasn’t above lying. One time she actually bit her tongue until it bled. When she was captured by the Nazis, she said she had tuberculosis, and they let her go.”

These weren’t a bunch of Mata Haris or femme fatales, either. They were just patriots who were willing to do the job.

“In many cases, their husbands [and] family members had been killed in the war, and they were absolutely determined to do their bit for victory — you know, put themselves out there,” said De Roche.

The lecture brings audiences into a risky world of intrigue aimed at achieving victory in Europe. In some cases, the world is just beginning to learn about intelligence agencies such as Great Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

De Roche has long studied the achievements and exploits of unconventional women. She was a Fulbright Scholar and holds a doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. At Wesley College in Dover, she is professor of English and American studies and chair of the Department of Literature & Languages.

The library’s historical lectures are popular, so audiences should arrive early for a good seat, said Kristin Cooper, the library’s assistant director.

“World War II is an interesting topic for our patrons. … So when I heard about women, in particular, in World War II, I thought it was something different that maybe our patrons haven’t heard before,” Cooper said.

For more details on the lecture, contact the South Coastal Library at (302) 539-5231, or at 43 Kent Avenue, Bethany Beach.

By Laura Walter
Staff Reporter