b. 28/04//1912 Amiens, France. d. 13/03/1995 Walton-on-Thames, Surrey
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 04/1943 - 05/1945 France/Germany.
She was born Odette Marie Céline Brailly in Amiens, France, the daughter of the First World War hero Gaston Brailly, who was killed at Verdun in 1918. At seven, she caught poliomyelitis, and spent a year blind and another without the movement of her limbs.
She met an Englishman, Roy Sansom, in Boulogne, and married him in 1931, moving with him to England. The couple had three daughters: Françoise, Lily and Marianne. Roy Sansom enlisted in 1940. In the spring of 1942, the Admiralty appealed for postcards or family photographs taken on the Continent for possible war use. Hearing the broadcast, she wrote that she had photographs taken around Boulogne, on the French coast of the English Channel, but she inadvertently addressed her letter to the War Office instead of the Admiralty. As a result, she was enrolled in Special Forces of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) and trained by Colonel Maurice Buckmaster's Special Operations Executive to be sent into Nazi-occupied France to work with the French Resistance. She left her three daughters in a convent school.
She was 31 years old and serving in the SOE when she was infiltrated into enemy occupied France in October 1942 with the codename Lise. She worked with great courage and distinction until April 1943 when she was arrested with Peter Churchill, her CO. While travelling between Marseilles and Paris on the way to prison at Fresnes, she was able to speak to her CO and for mutual protection they agreed to maintain the fiction that they were married. She adhered to this story and even succeeded in convincing her captors, in spite of evidence to the contrary and 14 interrogations. She also drew the Gestapo's attention away from her CO and on to herself. They severely tortured her to get more information but she refused to buckle. She was condemned to death and sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in June 1943. She remained there for 2 years but was never executed. After the war she was a witness at the trial in Hamburg of 16 members of the staff of the Concentration Camp.
Sansom and Odette's marriage was dissolved in 1946 and she married Peter Churchill in 1947. She was divorced from Churchill in 1956 and married Geoffrey Hallowes in the same year. Hallowes outlived her and died in 2006.
Hallowes was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire and was the first of three Second World War First Aid Nursing Yeomanry members to be awarded the George Cross (gazetted 20 August 1946). She remains the only woman to have received the George Cross whilst alive, all other female awards to date being posthumous. She was also appointed a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur for her work with the French Resistance. In 1951, her home was burgled and the GC stolen. After an appeal by her mother, it was returned with a note saying:
You, Madame, appear to be a dear old lady. God bless you and your children. I thank you for having faith in me. I am not all that bad — it's just circumstances. Your little dog really loves me. I gave him a nice pat and left him a piece of meat — out of fridge. Sincerely yours, A Bad Egg.
On 23 February 2012, the Royal Mail released a postage stamp featuring Hallowes as part of its "Britons of Distinction" series.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BURVALE CEMETERY, HERSHAM, SURREY.
Picture courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Picture of Sansom's medals courtesy of Derek Walker