On my way home from work, I was listening to a news story on NPR about the death of this 89-year-old woman in a small coastal town of England. Eileen Nearne was described as a recluse with no family or friends. After her death, authorities found as a part of her belongings, medals and documents that revealed she was in fact a World War II spy whose code name was Agent Rose!
Nearne was one of only a few dozen women spies in an organization set up by Winston Churchill, called the Special Operations Executive or SOE. Its mission was to support the French Resistance. She worked secretly in the Nazi occupied France where her job was to send out radio messages. Those times, if a British spy was found, the only treatment s/he would get : death! Even after being caught and subject to torture, Nearne refused to crack, and relentlessly tried convinced her Nazi interrogators she was only a local member of the French Resistance. She was dispatched to a concentration camp for women from where she successfully managed to escape – a rare thing. She was captured more than once and managed to escape every time!
Apparently, as much as she was stoic in facing the unimaginable atrocities, she broke down once she was back in England and was physically and mentally ill for some years, before she recovered. She led a quiet life and had a cat for company. She was known to support few charities.
Sadly, her body was not discovered for several days after her death.
The story lingered in my mind long after the broadcast that afternoon. Truth could be stranger than fiction, Mark Twain had said, and I couldn’t agree more in case of this unsung hero!
As I wondered, images from World War II crowded my mind – bombs, prisoners, atrocities, concentration camps and living every moment in fear and uncertainty. And what a thing to garner courage to live through it day in day out, have that strong will to survive and force yourself never to give up! And what would it be to live alone once its all over? Not to be able to share, as it would be too personal to do so.. What would it be like reliving in memories the same old life, too horrifying to be forgotten in a lifetime, even after it was a “free world” on the outside? That such a brave and serving woman had to live and suffer all alone was very heart wrenching to me. A true war hero indeed!
But the more I thought about her and those times (even though accompanied by feelings of sadness and intrigue, of course), the more it put things into perspective for us and our lives in general today. Life is so much brighter and beautiful for us guys!
Hope she found solace in death, that she didn’t, in life. May her soul rest in peace!