D‑Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resis­tance, Sab­o­taged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II

January 1, 2013

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.

Discussion Questions

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?