(Courtesy of Lorna Catling and the Spy Museum, Washington, DC)

Virginia probably had mixed feelings about being named, “Member of the British Empire,” (MBE) in July 1943, just after being liberated from Spanish prison. She richly deserved the honor, one of the UK’s highest, for her espionage and selfless acts of courage that saved countless lives. But for a seasoned spy used to living in the shadows, the public spotlight of the MBE could blow her cover and spell the end of her career as an undercover agent in France–or anywhere else in Europe.

Virginia probably was suspicious that the MBE was the British equivalent of a “gold watch”–the capstone of her career, her spy boss’ pat on the head for a job well done–and she wasn’t through with France. She had left her agents behind, an act which spawns tremendous guilt in any spy that handles clandestine agents, and she desperately wanted to be part of the final chapter in the liberation of France.

Her suspicions, that she was being sidelined by her British spymasters, never to again return to war-time France, were well-founded. After telling Maurice Buckmaster, head of SOE France section, that she wanted to return to the Haute Loire, Buckmaster wrote:

“It is only because I honestly believe that the Gestapo would also know of your return in about a fortnight that I say no… You are really too well-known in the country and it would be wishful thinking believing you could escape… and we do not want to give (Barbie) even half a chance by sending in anyone as remarkable as yourself.”

Virginia, always independent and strong-willed, fought back, writing Buckmaster in October 1943:

“My neck is my own… and I’m willing to get a crick in it because there’s a war (going on)…”  Buckmaster’s letter did not provide the last word on Virginia’s future.  Virginia Hall did return to France.

There’s no record that Virginia took the MBE medal, citation, or met with the King (which typically accompanied the honor) while the war was raging on the continent.

Virginia was not motivated by honors or awards and though by war’s end she received many accolades, she always demanded private ceremonies, with only one or two others in attendance.  It seems Virginia always preferred the shadows to the spotlight.

 

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