Or: The inspiration to make an incredible woman a pivotal character of Saucer War One
Greetings, everyone, and happy International Women’s Day! In honour of this celebration, I thought it would be a great idea to introduce you to one of the personalities of ANTIC, the defenders of Earth.
Virginia Hall is a name wargamers might not know as readily as Lord Dowding or his right-hand man Keith Park, but I hope that by the end of this article you will appreciate this amazing woman as much as I do. Read on, and enjoy the Girl’s Own adventure that was the real life of Virginia Hall, ‘the limping lady’.
Virginia was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1906, and schooled at the liberal, all-women Radcliffe and Barnard colleges before university and further studies in Europe. She had a ear for languages, a quality which would suit her well working as a clerk for the Consular Service, and later, for both the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in much more deadly roles.
A shooting accident while on assignment to the Consulate in Istanbul led to the amputation of Virginia’s left leg. Undaunted, she named its wooden replacement ‘Cuthbert’, and carried on her duties. Alas, her attempts to rise to the position of a diplomat were thwarted, discriminated against because of her disability, and probably also because of her sex.
When war erupted again in Europe, Virginia refused to sit on the sidelines. Infuriated by America’s reluctance to enter the fight, she headed for France, joined up, and drove an ambulance for the French Army until that nation fell to the Nazis in June, 1940. Still showing the same determination to fight, she escaped into Spain where fate intervened; Here, Virginia met George Bellows — an Intelligence Officer for the British Secret Service. Impressed by Virginia, Bellows brought her to the attention of Nicolas Bodington, an unsung hero of the war, and the man who set up the SOE. He was equally impressed, put Virginia through the SOE’s gruelling spy training programme – wooden leg not withstanding – and sent her to Vichy France, where she would spend the next 16 months causing the Gestapo to have a collective nervous break-down.
Virginia Hall built a network of informers – including a patriotic brothel madame whose girls passed on all that their German clients blabbed in bed – which kept the British up-to-date with what the Germans were doing in France. She slipped from the clutches of the Germans repeatedly, helped dozens of downed Allied airmen to escape capture, and, when she learned that the Vichy police had captured 12 agents, set in motion a plan that smuggled in all the tools the agents needed to escape (including a radio!) All succeeded in breaking out, and were smuggled to England, and safety.
The Germans were understandably upset by this. The Gestapo redoubled its efforts to capture ‘the limping lady’, and came close by infiltrating a collaborator into Virginia’s circle of contacts. Warned just in time, Virginia fled for the Spanish border once again. This time, the only way across was to walk – on her wooden leg 50 miles across the Pyrenees mountains. So, she did.
When she returned to England, the SOE refused to send Virginia back to France. They feared she had been compromised, and the risk to her was too great. But by now the United States was in the war, so Virginia packed her cloak and dagger and went to work for the OSS instead.
In the lead-up to D-Day, (June 6, 1944), Virginia, convincingly disguised as an old milkmaid (she sold cheeses to German soldiers), returned to France, where she organised and armed cells of the French Resistance. She had to overcome the obstinate reluctance of many Frenchmen, who refused to take orders from a woman, even one with Virginia’s record of fighting the occupiers.
Eventually she won the French to her side, and with 1500 Resistance fighters, Virginia blew up German trains, bridges, fuel dumps, and anything else she didn’t like.
After the war, Virginia was rehired by the then-new CIA, working to undermine Russian influence in Europe. She married fellow OSS officer Paul Goillot; six inches shorter and eight years younger than his former boss, Virginia.
The CIA, however, was quickly forgetting its origins in the War, and the critical roles played by the OSS’s female operatives; It rapidly degraded into a ‘boy’s club’, and men who hadn’t served in the front lines resented Virginia’s enviable record, and her justly deserved recognition. (Virginia Hall received the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, the British Member of the British Empire, and France’s Croix de Guerre.) Left ‘piloting a desk’ for the rest of her career, Virginia soon disappeared into obscurity.
Or at least, that’s the official story.
In the reality revealed in Saucer War One, we discover that the postwar world had even greater need for Virginia Hall. With the Earth threatened by a danger perhaps even greater than that of fascism, Virginia was put forward by Majestic 12 as a candidate for recruitment by ANTIC – the new, ultra-secret agency tasked with tackling the Venusian threat. Lord Dowding, the organisational genius who led the RAF to victory in the Battle of Britain, had been selected to command ANTIC, and he knew of Virginia’s exploits against the Nazis. To the surprise of most, he did not merely choose Virginia Hall to assist with ANTIC’s intelligence operations (PRANK), but to control them.
It was a brilliant decision. Dowding recognised that his Head of Intelligence (code-named GLAMOR), must be ruthless, cautious, insightful and unstoppable. He got just what he needed in Virginia Hall. Taking to the job with gusto, Virginia recognised the danger the Noordicans presented as easily as she had sensed when the Gestapo crept too close back in France. Using her CIA desk job as the perfect cover, Virginia recruited her PRANK agents from all walks of life, and all nationalities. Being charged with saving the world, she knew ANTIC needed eyes and ears everywhere. (Rumours persist that among her recruits were residents of the White House, Buckingham Palace, and even the Kremlin.)
When the Saucer War One timeline ‘kicks off’ in mid-1952, Virginia Hall is still racing to build her massive network of agents, informants, and contacts. To keep track of the volumes of data these people feed into PRANK, Virginia is ably assisted by the unique, self-aware Cryotronic Mega-Computer she named ‘Cuthbert’, after her faithful wooden leg. “Cuthbert’s” opinion regarding its name is a secret it keeps to itself!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about both the real and (maybe?) fictitious Virginia Hall. When I discovered her story, it fired my imagination, and the whole idea of GLAMOR and PRANK flowed from there. From small seeds, and all that.
Next time, I hope to finally show off the first 3D prints of miniature saucers, so stay tuned for that!
See you then, and — Watch the Skies!