A Woman of No Importance
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell
Reviewed by L. Bennett
When you watch documentaries and movies or read books and articles about the American involvement in Europe during World War II, it is unlikely that you will learn much about Virginia Hall. She was born in 1906 in Maryland and was an adventurous, independent child. Although her mother wanted Virginia to marry into wealth, her daughter sought a life in America's diplomatic corps. She wanted to be an ambassador and moved away from home to pursue that dream. A hunting accident in Turkey, where her overseas career began, resulted in the loss of a leg but not the loss of Virginia's dream. Her athleticism served her well as did her skill with languages and reading people. She adopted France as her second home but left for England when the war broke out. Unable to remain on the sidelines as her French friends faced the unthinkable, Virginia returned to France as a spy. With organizational skills, contacts, and fortitude she helped French resistance fighters with training, equipment, and weapons. She never gave up her belief that France would be free again.
This book is Virginia's biography but it reads more like a classic spy mystery. Considering the tight spots she got into, the constant need to look over her shoulder, and the urge to move frequently, her life sounds more like an Ian Fleming novel than the true story of one woman's heroic contributions to the Allied victory in Europe. That she was never captured, that the resistance groups she worked with respected her leadership, that the Nazi command assigned a deadly double agent to track her down, that the attacks she planned on Nazi supply and communication lines were nearly always successful, all stand as monuments to Virginia's tactical abilities and leadership skills. Her story is incredible but her post-war life was a disappointing but predictable end to a sterling career. In the end her biggest impediment to success and appreciation of her contributions to the war was not her false leg. It was being female, and that is why you probably never heard about Virginia Hall.