After deciding that the heroine of my newest historical mystery series—Verity Kent—had worked in the foreign division of the British Secret Service during the Great War, it wasn’t long before I determined I also wanted her to have served in some capacity abroad, perhaps even behind enemy lines. Uncovering exactly what role I wanted her to play as a field agent was the trickier part, particularly as I wanted it to be realistic. But it was as I was perusing the history section of MI6—British Secret Intelligence Service’s website—that I stumbled upon my answer. There, listed among its achievements during the First World War, was a brief mention of a spy network called La Dame Blanche. This immediately piqued by curiosity, and I went in search of more information.
La Dame Blanche was an intelligence gathering network at work in German-occupied Belgium and northeastern France during the latter years of the Great War. The network derived its name from the legend of the White Lady whose appearance was supposed to herald the downfall of the Hohenzollern dynasty—a dynasty which the German Kaiser was part of. In order to better assist the Allied forces, the group elected to attach itself to the British War Office, so they could pass along the information they gathered.
La Dame Blanche utilized citizens of all ages and social classes, from the elderly to young children working in concert with their parents to furtively record information about German troop and equipment movements in their homes along the rail-lines, all under the enemies’ watchful eyes. Midwives used their abilities to travel great distances at odd hours to act as couriers of the network’s reports. Nuns from convents where wounded German soldiers were being treated passed on information they gleaned from their patients.
Members of La Dame Blanche were militarized and brilliantly organized, keeping companies and battalions as separate from each other as possible, so that if one were caught by the German Secret Police, the rest of the network would not be compromised. And while it may have been conceived and established by three men, the group also employed thousands of women as well as men. The leaders understood that in such an endeavor there was no space for niceties or concerns over gentility and gender roles. The dangers of war affected everyone, and the best person for the job must be tasked with it. As such, women were often used to an advantage, exploiting the fact that the enemy often dismissed them as harmless. They also held leadership positions, outranking the men who served beneath them.
Given these facts, it was easy to see Verity working as an attachment and a liaison to La Dame Blanche when it became necessary for her assignments to send her into the German-occupied territories. Those tasks which send her under the electrified fence separating Belgium from neutral Holland are the most treacherous she must undertake, though not more precarious than the reality of the woman who are forced to coexist side-by-side with the enemy endure every day. Continue reading “La Dame Blanche by Anna Lee Huber”