Posted in Home

Women and the British Secret Service by Anna Lee Huber

When I first began toying with the idea of writing a new historical mystery series based around a woman who had served in the British Secret Service during the Great War, I was concerned I wouldn’t find much factual basis to craft my heroine from. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Careful digging brought to light the thousands of women who went to work for the various intelligence gathering agencies in Britain during World War I. They served at the headquarters in London, in various field offices across the globe, and even behind enemy lines in the German-occupied areas as part of several intelligence gathering networks connected with the British War Office. These brave women served with great distinction and with utmost secrecy, and many of their contributions are still widely unknown.

Within Britain, women were employed by the Directorate of Military Operations (DMI), as well as the intelligence sections of the Foreign Office, Admiralty, and Army. They operated as secretaries, typists, clerks, translators, messengers, historians, switchboard operators, supervisors, and more. More specifically, they worked in postal censorship, helped draft propaganda, and designed paperwork networks for tracking spies and foreign intelligence.

In fact, one division of the DMI was staffed almost exclusively by women. MI5, the branch in charge of counterespionage, maintained a massive registry of suspects and information regarding foreigners within the UK and any British citizens with ties to the enemy, no matter how seemingly insignificant. This massive undertaking was staffed by more than six-hundred well-educated women. Continue reading “Women and the British Secret Service by Anna Lee Huber”

Posted in Home

Séances and the Great War by Anna Lee Huber

The tremendous number of casualties that occurred during the Great War (more commonly known today as World War I) was both shocking and devastating. Never before had so many lives been lost in so short a time. There were few people in the main combatant countries who were not directly affected by the death of a friend or loved one, and many suffered staggering losses. Families lost multiple sons. Entire villages were deprived of nearly all their young men.

To make matters worse, most people were also denied the chance for any closure—their loved ones being killed on a foreign battlefield and buried in a war cemetery faraway. There was no funeral, no gravestone to visit in the churchyard. Sometimes there wasn’t even a grave to speak of—the deceased’s body being lost or destroyed. So there were no goodbyes, no finality—only a void where their loved one should have been. People struggled to come to terms with the loss of so many lives, and in the process, a large number of them turned to Spiritualism, desperate to contact their loved ones.

Spiritualism was not new. It had steadily gained popularity throughout the second half of the 19th century, attracting interest mainly from members of the wealthy middle to upper class. It was based on the belief that the spirits of the dead wished to and were capable of communicating with the living, usually through the assistance of a medium. By the end of the Great War it had attracted many famous devotees and advocates, including members of the British royal family, prominent physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, and the author of the Sherlock Holmes detective stories—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

By the end of the war, the practice had become wildly popular. Throughout London, on any given evening there were almost as many séances—both professional as well as amateur efforts at “table-turning”—as dances. The most popular (and clever) mediums were so in demand they booked seats for their shows as far in advance as popular revues. At a time when psychology was still in its relative infancy and few people had access to counseling for their grief, many latched on to the hope and comfort that Spiritualism seemed to provide to reassure them that their loved ones had survived the death of their physical bodies and were now somewhere safe and happy.

However, Spiritualism also had its share of skeptics and detractors, most notably the writer Rudyard Kipling and the illusionist Harry Houdini, who soon made it his quest to expose the fraudulent methods employed by many mediums. There may have been mediums who possessed genuine gifts, but the vast majority of them were proved to be charlatans, preying on the grief and gullibility of others. Various tricks were employed to convince clients of the medium’s purported supernatural abilities. Concealed assistants rapped tables or wafted incense through the room, strategically placed vents were opened to send drafts of cool air across participants’ backs, strings were used to ring bells or dangle objects over the table, making them appear to float in midair.

At large stage shows, assistants were planted among the crowd to listen to people’s conversations and report back to the spiritualist, or to be drawn up on stage themselves. Some mediums even employed women in society to promote their services and help bolster attendance. These society women also shared information about the physical attributes and characteristics of other’s deceased loved ones so that the medium could better deceive their clients. In this way, sometimes one’s own friends were profiting in a medium’s efforts to defraud you.

For better or for worse, séances in war-time and post-war Britain and other countries were all the rage. They both exploited the grief of those who were most vulnerable, and undoubtedly helped some to cope with their sorrow and carry on.

 

“My favorite new mystery series!” –Alyssa Maxwell, USA Today bestselling author

In 1919 England, in the shadow of The Great War, many look to the spirit world for answers. But it will take an all too earthbound intrigue to draw in the discerning heroine of Anna Lee Huber’s latest mystery . . .

It’s not that Verity Kent doesn’t sympathize with those eager to make contact with lost loved ones. After all, she once believed herself a war widow. But now that she’s discovered Sidney is very much alive, Verity is having enough trouble connecting with her estranged husband, never mind the dead. Still, at a friend’s behest, Verity attends a séance, where she encounters the man who still looms between her and Sidney—and a medium who channels a woman Verity once worked with in the Secret Service. Refusing to believe her former fellow spy is dead, Verity is determined to uncover the source of the spiritualist’s top secret revelation.

Then the medium is murdered—and Verity’s investigation is suddenly thwarted. Even Secret Service agents she once trusted turn their backs on her. Undaunted, Verity heads to war-torn Belgium, with Sidney by her side. But as they draw ever closer to the danger, Verity wonders if she’s about to learn the true meaning of till death do us part . . .

Praise for This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

“Engrossing . . . Evocative historical details complement the well-drawn characters. The intricate plot builds to a surprising conclusion.” —Publishers Weekly

“A richly detailed period mystery, This Side of Murder is sure to turn you into a true Verity Kent fan (if you aren’t one already.)” – Bustle.com

“Suspenseful, atmospheric, and beautifully written.” –-Ashley Weaver, author of the Amory Ames Mysteries “A captivating murder mystery told with flair and panache!” – Fresh Fiction

“Huber paints a compelling portrait of the aftermath of World War I, and show the readers how devastating the war was for everyone in England . . . I am looking forward to reading many more of Verity Kent’s adventures.”—Historical Novel Society

“A smashing and engrossing tale of deceit, murder and betrayal set just after World War I. . . . Anna Lee Huber has crafted a truly captivating mystery here.” —All About Romance

Anna Lee Huber is the Daphne award-winning author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries, the Verity Kent Mysteries, and the Gothic Myths series. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in music and minored in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her family. Her next novel, Treacherous is the Night, Verity Kent Book 2, releases on September 25th, 2018. Visit her online at www.annaleehuber.com.

 

Posted in Home

La Dame Blanche by Anna Lee Huber

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”