In September 1943 a Handley Page Halifax dropped a smock covered figure into France as they had done on many occasions previously… The shadowy figure landed concealed their parachute and went to find their contacts, most of this sounds like it has come from your run of the mill WW2 spy thriller, this shadowy figure lead 3,000 armed resistance fighters and had a million franc bounty on their head. This sounds further like a spy novel, until you find out that this shadowy figure was a fresh faced 29 year old, female SOE agent called Pearl Witherington. As D-Day fast approached Pearl, led many raids on railway lines and supply routes, attempting to prevent German soldiers moving north or back to Germany. During her time in France she met her future husband Henri Cornioley, a young French Resistance fighter she had met before the war. They survived, a close call in a pitched battle over a German guard house, getting split up and fearing one another dead, they managed to make it back to England where they married in October 1944. She was recommended for the Military Cross for her bravery, but as a woman was deemed ineligible and offered a civil MBE instead.
She wrote a strongly worded letter to the then, War Department, refusing the award;
“I consider it most unjust to be given a civilian decoration…Our training, which we did with the men, was purely military…and I personally was responsible for the training and organisation or nearly 3,000 men for sabotage and guerrilla warfare.”
It was not until 2004, that the Queen presented her with the CBE and then two years later she was finally given her parachute wings. She died in February 2008, aged 93, nine years after her husband.