Woman's World War Two George Cross could fetch £250,000

By Neil Prior
BBC News

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media captionViolette Szabo is one of only four women to be awarded the George Cross

A George Cross awarded to an Anglo-French World War Two resistance heroine is to be auctioned off.

The medal, the highest honour awarded for bravery to civilians and military personnel in non-combat roles, could fetch up to £250,000.

Violette Szabo was just one of four women to be awarded the George Cross.

As a member of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), Violette Szabo twice parachuted into occupied France to aid the Resistance movement.

On her second mission shortly after D-Day, she was captured, interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo. In early 1945, she was executed.

Her daughter Tania Szabo, who lives near Builth Wells, Powys, was just two when her mother was killed.

She says making the decision to part with her medals was a painful one.

media captionTania Szabo on her mother Violette's George Cross

"After many years of actively supporting the legacy of my gallant mother, I have reached a point in my life where I need to make a difficult decision in respect of the future of her medals," she said.

"I have no children, therefore the ongoing custodianship of Violette's medals needs to be addressed… I have every confidence that the successful purchaser will cherish and take great care of them."

Violette Szabo was born in Paris in 1921 to a French mother and English father, and spent her childhood between the two countries.

At the outbreak of WW2 she was working on a perfume counter of a London department store.

image copyrightDix Noonan Webb

In 1940 she had a whirlwind romance with Etienne Szabo, a Free French soldier stationed in Aldershot, Hampshire, and married him within six weeks.

But in October 1942, he was killed at the Battle of El Alamein, north Africa, and never got to meet his four-month-old daughter, Tania.

A heartbroken Violette vowed revenge on the nation which had killed her husband, and so began the arduous selection process to join SOE.

Using fluent French to work undercover, she avoided arrest, confirmed a Resistance unit had been compromised, and identified German factories to be bombed by the RAF.

But her final mission on 8 June 1944 - two days after the D-Day landings and Tania's second birthday - she parachuted back into France and was captured by the Germans at a roadblock.

In the months that followed she was tortured at Ravensbruck concentration camp in northern Germany.

image copyrightDix Noonan Webb
image captionTania Szabo with Prince Charles after a service to unveil a memorial to the women SOE agents

Fellow inmates would later recall how she danced and sang "The Lambeth Walk" at the German SS guards.

Violette was eventually sentenced to death after taking part in a mutiny at the camp.

Although she was just four, Tania remembers representing her mother when Violette was posthumously awarded the George Cross in December 1946.

"I curtsied as I knew so well how to do," she said.

"And he [King George Vl] leant forward and pinned the George Cross onto my right hand side, saying that as my mother's representative I must always wear it on my right-hand side."

Tania added: "Her life was short but lived to the full, with much happiness, joy, some deep sadness and great endeavour... What a great old lady she would have made."

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