The dramatic untold story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain’s elite spy agency to help pave the way for Allied victory. By 1942, the Allies were losing badly and Winston Churchill knew he needed more than conventional military strategy to defeat Hitler. A few years earlier, he had created an agency — the first of its kind — called the Special Operations Executive. Its mandate was to go behind enemy lines and “set Europe ablaze.” But with most men on the front lines, Churchill was forced to do something radical: recruit women. In D‑Day Girls, Sarah Rose uncovers the stories of these remarkable spies. There’s Andrée Borrel, a scrappy and streetwise Parisian; Odette Sansom, an unhappily married suburban mother who saw the SOE as her ticket into a meaningful adventure; and Lise de Baissac, a fiercely independent member of French colonial high society. Together they destroyed train lines, ambushed Nazis, and gathered crucial intelligence — laying the groundwork for the D‑Day invasion that proved to be the turning point in the war. Stylishly written and rigorously researched, this is an inspiring story for our own moment of resistance in which women continue to play a vital role.
D‑Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II
Courtesy of Crown/Penguin Random House
1. The author opens the book with dialogue from Shakespeare’s Henry VI. How did you
interpret this quote prior to reading D‑Day Girls? After finishing the book, did your
interpretation of this quote change?
2. Is there a person mentioned in D‑Day Girls whom you relate to most strongly? Why?
3. Initially some leaders of the Special Operations Executive took issue with the fact that
Odette was born in France. She was “suspect by virtue of her birth” (page 10). Why do
you think the SOE still ultimately sent her to war? Where do you see this kind of
suspicious sentiment toward those we perceive as “others” in our world today?
4. The adult women of the Special Operations Executive were frequently referred to in
spoken and written communication as “girls.” The author points out that although it
may sound “uncomfortable to the modern ear” (page 301), this was common language
for the time. Are you uncomfortable with the usage of the word “girls”? Why or why
5. Why do you think that the author chose to focus most closely on Odette, Lise, and
6. According to the author, after going off to war “the Corps Féminins were never just on
the job; they retained an identity as mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives — or ex-
wives — even behind enemy lines” (page 83). Is this ability to retain civilian identities
even while at war an asset?
7. Do you feel that the Special Operations Executive, FANY, and other similar organizations
that gave women a hands-on role in WWII were progressive for their time? Why or why
8. During the war, the French developed a new word — dépaysement — for their wartime
sense of “not feeling at home” (page 136). Have you ever felt dépaysement in your life?
In our modern world, does this word resonate?
9. The war stories of these female spies were kept under wraps as classified information
until very recently. What was the purpose of this? Why do you feel that World War II
history has largely hidden the roles women took on in the war?
10. What do you think is gained in our understanding of the war and the world in general by
discussing the untold narratives of women such as Lise, Odette, and Andrée?
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