Code Name: Lise – The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy
By Larry Loftis
Hardcover in dustjacket, 360 pages, notes, bibliography, and index
Published by Gallery Books January 2019
Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.2 x 9.0 inches
Odette Sansom was a French woman married to an Englishman. After France was occupied by the Germans she was recruited by the British Special Operations Executive to operate undercover in France as a British agent. She landed by boat near Marseilles where she joined an undercover cell named Spindle led by Captain Peter Churchill and radio operator Adolphe Rabinovitch. Their work at this time was mainly securing airdrops and organizing a network of supporters. They moved frequently to avoid drawing the attention of the Abwehr, German military intelligence.
Unfortunately for the Spindle team, a very capable Abwehr officer named Hugo Bleicher had gained the confidence of other SOE operatives and was infiltrating the SOE networks. Bleicher used the story that he was attempting to defect to England and needed the help of SOE agents to arrange for a flight to smuggle him out of France. He met with Odette, who reported the contact to England. She was advised to go into hiding, but before the team could leave the area Bleicher returned with troops and arrested both Sansom and Churchill.
They were imprisoned by the Gestapo under horrible conditions, starved and tortured. Odette maintained the story that she and Churchill were married, and that Churchill was related to the British Prime Minister. The possibility that this might be true led the Germans to believe their captives might be of some political value, which very likely saved both their lives. They revealed nothing of value to their captors. Rather than execute them, the Germans sent Odette to Ravensbrück concentration camp where she managed to survive until the end of the war. She was awarded the George Cross by King George VI for bravery.
This is a rather harrowing book to read, both for the close calls and escapes inherent to spy work and the brutal conditions of Odette’s imprisonment. This is a remarkable story of personal resilience and bravery under the most deplorable of conditions. Recommended.