Last Updated on July 11, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 378
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II, by Sonia Purnell, recounts the exploits of Virginia Hall, who worked with Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Vichy, France, during World War II. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Virginia Hall was one of the best early operatives of the SOE.
Ten years before joining the resistance against the occupying German forces, Hall lost her right leg below the knee in a hunting accident in Turkey, where she was posted as a State Department clerk.
Hall was trained in the art of disguise and had close-combat skills. By 1942, the Germans had identified her as the most dangerous Allied spy in France—they made it imperative that she be found out and destroyed at all costs. The book narrates her close escapes, the betrayals that led to last-minute changes in plans, and her battles with her male superiors who did not share her vision.
Her desire to fight the Nazis and her latent ability for subversive acts brought her to the attention of the newly-formed British SOE. The book provides a gripping account of how Hall built a network of informers in Lyon and how she put in place escape routes for SOE operatives.
The colorful cast of this adventure includes housewives who bravely acted as couriers and prostitutes who gleaned information from their German patrons. Hall succeeded in introducing millions of Francs' worth of counterfeit notes in the market and in setting up transmitter locations that sent regular feedback to England, all while taking care to evade detection by mobile radio-frequency detection units that patrolled the streets of French cities.
Hall called her eight-pound prosthetic leg "Cuthbert." The increasingly frustrated Nazis eventually gave her the moniker "The Limping Lady of Lyon."
When on recall in London after the Nazis got too close to her, Hall found the desk job she was assigned to too staid. She joined the OSS, basically the CIA in its earlier incarnation, and she organized resistance at the local level and oversaw the distribution of arms and supplies for the Gaullist soldiers.
After the war, Hall joined the CIA. The agency has since honored Hall by naming one of the buildings at their training center after her.