Women are often the forgotten heroes of the 20th century’s two World Wars. Unable to fight directly, they were left to mind the home fires, going about their daily lives or involved in auxiliary work.
But it was their position at home that made them best placed to resist and sabotage enemy actions. Women were able to do many of the things men could not. They collected and passed on information as they went about their ordinary lives, largely invisible.
Some of these women trained to infiltrate society to spy and resist the enemy. Others took up the challenge by accident, from a strong desire to do their bit. All showed bravery and determination equal to any male combatant.
Many were caught, tortured and often died in horrible circumstances. But with very few exceptions, their names are not well known. Here are just ten of those names.
Louise Thuliez was one of the most prominent resistance figures in France during the First World War. She worked in partnership with Edith Cavell; the British nurse executed by the German’s for spying and was arrested at the same time. Louise only escaped Cavell’s fate because she was a catholic, saved by the intervention of the Pope and King of Spain.
Thuliez was born in 1881 on the French border with Belgium. Initially, she trained as a teacher. But with the outbreak of war, she turned to nursing. When six wounded British soldiers were left behind in her village, Thuliez broke into a deserted bakery to make some bread for the men. When challenged by her neighbors, she insisted their first priority was to feed the troops that were trying to help them.
When the German’s took the village, Thuliez saved the soldiers by hanging a makeshift Red Cross flag out of her window. When no effort was made to remove the men, she moved them to the house of a local nobleman. The men were then given civilian clothes and smuggled back to the front.
So began Thuliez’s venture organizing escape routes out of France into the Netherlands and Britain. In 1915, she had made contact with Edith Cavell and began to use the British nurse’s Brussels nursing home as a waypoint for her escaping soldiers. Often she traveled to Brussels with the men-and because of this she was caught and tried at the same time as Cavell in 1915.
Like Cavell, Thuliez was sentenced to death. But on 27 October 1915, she was granted a reprieve when the Spanish Ambassador intervened on her behalf. Louise’s life was spared. She was transported to Germany where she remained for the rest of the war.
Thuliez was to resume her resistance work during the Second World War. Again she survived, dying of old age in 1966.