The Housewife Spy - Clare Gray

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The Housewife Spy

«We want you to go to France as a spy,» the man said calmly. Odette could not believe her ears. A spy? Her? Was this man crazy?

Odette was born in Amiens, in the north of France, in 1912. During World War I her mother helped the fight against Germany by offering rooms in her home to British soldiers. Little Odette loved playing with the soldiers. They spoke strangely, but they were friendly and interesting. She loved their stories about England. When Odette later married an Englishman, her mother was not surprised! After a short time in France, Odette and her husband moved to England in 1931.

In 1939 German soldiers attacked Poland, and World War II began. One year later, Germans moved into France and started a new government there. Odette's heart was broken. She remembered the proud people of Amiens in World War I. They fought hard for France's freedom, but now it was lost. Odette knew that she wanted to help. But she was only a housewife. What could she do?

In the early 1940s more and more countries joined the war. Around the world, people were fighting and dying. Odette listened to the radio news sadly, and then her heart stopped… The British government wanted pictures of French beaches! Her old vacation photos! At last she could really help.

When the British Secret Service' saw Odette's photos, they immediately became interested in this young Frenchwoman. She knew a lot about the north of France. Maybe she had some more useful information. Or maybe she could help in another way. Was she smart? Was she brave? Did she want to help Britain and France? They decided to invite Odette to their offices in London. Soon Odette was traveling toward a future that she could not imagine in her wildest dreams.

«We want you to go to France as a spy,» the man said calmly. Odette could not believe her ears. A spy? Her? Was this man crazy?

«I'm only a housewife,» she replied quietly. «I have three young daughters and a loving husband. They need me. I'm sorry.»

But as Odette listened to her own voice, she knew. She knew that her country needed her more. The room was quiet. The calm man sat silently behind his desk, waiting. Odette thought of her family and her home. Her heart ached as she spoke. «I'll help in any way I can. What do I need to do?»

Odette began her lonely life of secrets and lies immediately. She lied to her family. She wanted to be a war nurse, she told them. She smiled kindly as she kissed her daughters and husband goodbye. But, inside, her heart was breaking. «Will I ever see you again?» she thought.

The Secret Service gave Odette new French clothes, a French hairstyle, even a new French wedding ring. Odette's comfortable British life ended and her dangerous life as a spy began.

In November 1942 Odette started her work in Cannes, in the south of France.

She looked and spoke like an ordinary Frenchwoman. But really she was working closely with a British spy, Peter Churchill, passing money to the French Resistance.

Odette learned quickly. She started more and more dangerous work. She found «safe houses» for other spies to hide in. She also found new, secret places where British airplanes could drop guns and equipment. If spies are caught during a war, they are almost always killed immediately. Every word, every look, every thought was dangerous for Odette.

On April 16, 1943, Odette and Peter were caught by German police and questioned about their work. «This is the end,» thought Odette. «The Germans will kill us.» But then she had an idea. It was a dangerous plan, but it was their only hope.

«Don't kill Peter, kill me!» she said. «Peter is my husband. He doesn't work for the Resistance-he's only here for me.» Did the Germans believe her? Odette thought quickly. She needed a better lie — a lie to save their lives. «Peter's uncle is the most important man in Britain! You'll die if you kill him!»

The Germans looked carefully at their reports. Who was this unusual woman? And who was Peter Churchill? Churchill! They could not kill this man. His uncle was Winston Churchill-the head of the British government.

«Take them away!» the German officer ordered. «Get every piece of information from them. Do everything that is necessary!»

When burning metal first touched her skin, Odette cried inside with pain. But her reply was always the same: «I have nothing to say.» The cold, handsome man looked deeply into Odettes eyes. Then, slowly and calmly, he pulled out her toenails. Odette did not make a sound. She was weak from pain, but she was proud. Her silence was saving lives across France.

A few days later Odette's future was decided. Her eyes moved around the courtroom slowly. It was a beautiful, clean room and the sun shone brightly through the large windows. She could hear the noise of busy Paris life outside.

But it seemed like a dream to her. Her feet were very painful and her body was weak, but Odette sat up straight and looked proudly into the officers eyes.

«The court has decided that you must die,» the German officer explained, in bad French. «You are a British spy and you work for the French Resistance. Return to your prison room and wait.»

Days, weeks, and months passed. Each time the guards came to her prison room, death was possible. But Odette did not stop hoping. It seemed that her lie about Winston Churchill was working. Every night she imagined that she kissed her daughters. «I love you,» she told them softly.

In May, 1944 Odette was moved to Ravensbruck, in the north of Germany. Here, hundreds of weak prisoners moved slowly between the long lines of simple buildings. Their bodies were thin, their heads were shaven, and there was complete hopelessness in their eyes. At Ravensbruck the prisoners worked until they died. Every morning the dead bodies were burned, and the work continued. But someone had different plans for Odette in this terrible place.

Fritz Suren, the boss of Ravensbruck, was a cold, selfish man. He knew about Odette. He knew that she was special. But he did not trust her. He kept Odette alone and in complete darkness for months. But Odette knew how to stay hopeful. She imagined her family again, and in her mind she chose beautiful, colorful cloth and made pretty dresses for each of her daughters.

By now the Americans were in Germany and the war was almost at an end. On April 28, 1945, Suren visited Odette. «We are leaving today,» he told her.

He pushed her into a van with a few other prisoners. Through the window Odette could see German guards running, and cars and vans driving away quickly. She could not believe her eyes! «Will I live to go free?» she thought.

After four days of driving, a guard opened the van doors. He pulled Odette from the van and pushed her into Suren's car. «Why does he only want we?» she asked herself. She kept quiet and watched the road racing past outside.

Odette knew that Suren wanted to kill her. But hundreds of people were still alive because of her silence. She prepared for a proud death.

At 10:00 P.M. that night Suren drove Odette to a small town. «I'm giving you to the Americans,» he explained. Odette could not believe her ears. Was this a joke? But Surens face was serious. He thought that Odette was an important person. He wanted her to speak kindly of him after the war.

«This is Mrs. Churchill,» Suren explained to an American officer. «She is a relative of Winston Churchill.» Without looking at Odette, he dropped his gun. Then he turned slowly, and was taken by some soldiers toward his prison room. Odette looked around at the little town, the friendly faces of the American soldiers, and Suren's empty car by the side of the road. Was this a dream? Was she really alive? Was she really free?

Back in England, Odette fell into her husband's arms and cried happily. After years of fear and pain, her family was together again. Her daughters kissed and held their brave mother. «You look more beautiful than ever,» she told them. «Your love gave me hope and kept me alive.»

In 1946 Odette received one of the most important British medals for her great courage. «This is not for me,» she said. «It's for all the French Resistance workers in the war.»

Odette's brave actions saved thousands of French and British people. She loved her family, but she chose a dangerous and lonely life and helped others. Our lives today are shaped by women like Odette. We learn more about our present and our future when we remember their past courage.

— THE END -

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