Odette Sansom Hallowes:
Odette was tortured by the Gestapo in the Second World War and sent to a concentration camp where she was sentenced to death. She never gave in and managed to survive – and save others – purely by her wits.
In 1942, she had made sure that her three daughters were safe and well-cared for and left England to risk her life helping others.
Odette was French by birth.She had married an Englishman and gone to live with him in England in the early nineteen thirties – several years before the outbreak of war. In 1940 her husband enlisted and two years later, Odette herself was trained by the Special Operations Executive; specifically trained for espionage and resistance work.
She was torn between the desire to be a good mother to her children and remain in the comparative safety of England or to help. She later explained that her colonel, the man who was training her, told her that there were thousands of children in Europe who had no parents because they had been killed or sent to concentration camps. She knew that her own children were safe in a comfortable home and felt that she had to go. She was sent to occupied France.
There she had to make contact with her commanding officer, a man named Peter Churchill. She needed to make her way to Cannes where he was staying in a safe house. This meant that she had to travel through occupied France by train and by car, stopping only to sleep in safe houses or barns. She frequently had to show faked papers and when she was stopped by the police or soldiers had to live on her wits and think on her feet.
Eventually she rendezvoused with Peter. She acted as his courier , undertaking whatever missions she was asked to do. The couple were finally discovered however and arrested by the Gestapo. In order to confuse them, the couple claimed to be married.Odette persuaded them that she was the one in charge and that her ‘husband’ was innocent of all charges. She also told them that he was the nephew of Winston Churchill, believing that this would give him preferential treatment and that they wouldn’t treat his harshly as he could be used as a bargaining tool between the Germans and the British prime minister.
Her ruse worked.
But both were sent to concentration camps – separate ones – and sentenced to death. bUt Odette’s scheme worked and they escaped the death penalty because the Germans were sure that the couple were related to Winston Churchill and by staying alive, they would be more use to them.
After the war, Odette and her husband were divorced and she and Churchill were married. Both were decorated by the British government. When Odette was honoured her citation read as follows:
After Mrs Sansom had been captured, the Gestapo tried to make her disclose her comrades’ whereabouts. They seared her back with red hot irons and pulled out all her nails.
Mrs Sansom continued to refuse to speak through at least fourteen Gestapo interrogations. Mrs Sansom, during her two years’ captivity displayed courage, endurance and self-sacrifice of the highest order.
Note: Odette and Peter Churchill’s marriage was dissolved after about ten years. Odette then married Geoffrey Macleod Hallowes who hadalso been involved in espionage during the war.In the same year, 1956. Peter remarried too – to another former spy, Irene Hoyle.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR