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CCH Seminar – 15th May – Holly Moorhead

Join us online or in person for a seminar with PhD candidate Holly Moorhead.

Female Agents in the Field
Violette Szabo recovering from an injury sustained during parachute training, 1944 (National Army Museum)

This paper examines the tactical performances of female agents in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) operating in occupied France during WWII, and how such women manipulated gender stereotypes to avoid detection or interrogation in the field. Thirty-nine women were deployed into France between 1941-1944, operating in high-risk roles like couriers and wireless operators. Drawing from oral and written testimonies of former agents and F-Section leadership, this paper examines how agents utilised perceptions of femininity to avoid arrest and further conduct espionage within resistance circuits. An advantageous factor for women’s recruitment into the SOE was the ability to be seen in public under the guise of errands, social calls, and employment without raising suspicion. Whilst conversely, the Service du Travail Obligatoire had forced the enlistment and deportation of many young, able-bodied men in occupied France. The STO greatly hindered the ability for men of that demographic to be seen in public under the same guises as women, due to their mandated obligations of employment. Recognising this strategic advantage, SOE’s recruitment officer Selwyn Jepson’s was driven by his favourable attitude towards the characteristic potential of female agents, arguing that women “had a far greater capacity for cool and lonely courage than men”. This paper argues that women were not selected as agents in spite of being female, but rather, because of it. There were equal expectations of standards in training to their male counterparts, and their success in the field proved women had the aptitude and ability to engage in previously male dominated roles.

​​11am, 15th May

Burwood: C2.05.01
Waurn Ponds: IC2.108
Zoom: Click here.

Holly Moorhead is a PhD candidate in History at Deakin University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Her research investigates the impact and complexities of the Gaullist myth of resistance, and how the exclusionary nature of this resistance narrative impacted the recognition of female resisters operating in occupied France during World War II. Holly is particularly interested in how foreign involvement in the French resistance has been commemorated in the subsequent decades, with a specific focus on the thirty-nine female agents deployed by Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE).