Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell was born in Paris on 26 June 1921 to an English motor-car dealer from Brixton, and a French mother. She grew up at 18 Burnley Road, Stockwell, and was know to be a fiery daredevil. She met and married Etienne Szabo, a Captain in the French Foreign Legion 21 August, 1940. Shortly after the birth of her daughter, Tania, her husband died at the battle of El Alamein. Though devastated by the death, just a year after her marriage, Violette was determined to do something for the war effort and volunteered her services. She became a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry’s) and was recruited into the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and underwent secret agent training. Her first trip to France was completed successfully even though she was arrested and then released by the French Police.
Her second trip to France was just after the Normandy landings. Whist giving covering fire to a Maquis leader she ran out of ammunition for her Sten gun and was caught and tortured by the Germans. She gave nothing away and was sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp where she was shot through the back of the neck. She was only 23 and for her courage was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre. Her story was turned into a book and a film “Carve Her Name with Pride” with Miss Virginia McKenna taking the lead.
Violette Szabo is remembered in Lambeth on the Second World War deep-level air raid shelter at Stockwell, with a statue on Albert Embankment (unveiled in October 2009) and on a plaque inside Lambeth Town Hall.
Photo of Violette Szabo used with the kind permission of The Violette Szabo Museum website