The book looks at the role of female spies during the two World Wars, mainly focusing on Allied spies. During the First World War the main focus is on the image of the spy, the cases of Mata Hari and Edith Cavell, the very impressive La Dame Blanche network that operated in occupied Belgium and northern France and the increasingly important of women in the 'backroom' operations, analysing intelligence material. In the Second World War SOE's female agents are added to mix as Britain began to send women into occupied Europe.
The author has produced a good chapter on SOE's female agents, although I must admit I found the less familiar earlier material more interesting. The examination of female spies of the First World War is fascinating, and looks at the familiar tales of Mata Hari and Edith Cavell as well as the less well known spy networks that behind German lines and in particular in occupied Belgium (where the La Dame Blanche network eventually involved around one thousand people!). The section on SOE also includes a great deal of unfamiliar material looking at the less well known spies. I must admit I was quite surprised to discover that twenty-six of the thirty-nine women sent into France by SOE survived - one accounts tend to concentrate on the thirteen who were caught and killed.
One minor flaw is the author's tendency to fight old battles about the image of the female spy, taking on stereotypes that were present in the period under study rather than in the present day. I suspect most people's image of the historical female spy is dominated by the famous SOE agents, whose stories have rightfully been heavily publicized over recent years. The material on the way women spies were viewed, in particular during the First World War, is of great interest as a historical study, looking at the way the press treated Mata Hari or Edith Cavell but there is perhaps a slight tendency to over-estimate the role gender played in the much wider spy-manias of the First World War.
Overall this is an excellent piece of work, providing a good overview of the role of women as spies on the Allied side, with plenty of interesting material both on the image of the female spy and on the reality of their role.
1 - Women and War
2 - Spy Paranoia and the First World War
3 - Spying Under Occupation
4 - Backroom Women
5 - Special Operations Executive
6 - Behind Enemy Lines
7 - Missing
8 - Setting the Record Straight
Author: Ann Kramer
Publisher: Remember When