On His Majesty’s Secret Service

Aston Martin passes the streets of picturesque Italy. The girl asks the driver to speed up, to which the driver replies: “We don’t need to go faster. We have all the time in the world.” This is how “No Time to Die”, the newest Bond begins, although so far in every other movie, he was usually in a hurry. This Bond is unlike any other. And there is not only one agent 007 this year. Behind every great man, there stands a woman…

Craig Whitehead | Unsplash

Bond might have been a superstar in the novels and cinemas, but women often did the most high-risk spy work outside Hollywood. The woman you will read about was on everyone’s lips, especially in the Intelligence Agencies world. She might be the inspiration for Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, as one of her lovers was Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels. The Polish beauty queen and Britain’s first female special agent of World War II – Krystyna Skarbek, a.k.a. Christine Granville a.k.a Pauline Armand. Beautiful, intelligent, and deadly. The British government awarded her with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and the George Medal and French with Croix de Guerre. She became a resistance model for the French. The Israelis, even today, put Skarbek among their bravest soldiers in history. What about Polish compatriots? Poles turned her into a traitor.

Since childhood, Krystyna has loved sports and adrenaline. Her father instilled in her a love of horse riding, mountain climbing, and skiing. The health condition is critical in the history of Skarbek. She was diagnosed with a benign tumor in the uterus, which made her unable to become pregnant. She, however, used this to her advantage, getting involved in numerous romances that helped her later work in the Secret Intelligence Service. Before the war, she worked in a Fiat factory, where exhaust fumes from cars irreversibly damaged her lungs. Her doctors advised her to spend time at the Tatra Mountains in Zakopane, Poland, where clear air might help offset the damage caused to her lungs. Some sources say that she made friends with vodka and cigarette smugglers during her stay in Zakopane, with whom she soon began to cooperate. She had no interest in it except adventure, though she didn’t know then how much she would need help from the smugglers later. Paradoxically, it was the poor condition of her lungs that saved her later from execution in Hungary.

How did her work in the Secret Intelligence Service start? During her stay in Kenya, she heard the news of the outbreak of WW II. Determined to help defend her country, she immediately hit the road and went to London. After arriving in Great Britain, it was too late to enlist in the army at home, so Skarbek reported to the Special Operations Executive and offered her services in smuggling propaganda materials, radio codes, and intelligence plans from Hungary to Poland.

To get the job as a spy, Krystyna Skarbek had to undergo extremely murderous training. She completed it with honors, becoming the first woman in the British intelligence agency. She learned to kill with a knife, rope, and bare hands, and in the future, she was to become an explosives specialist.

On her first mission in Budapest, she conducted underground activity. She traveled to Poland through the Slovak mountains as a courier. And this is when she used her contacts with vodka and cigarette smugglers. Unfortunately, not everything went as planned. Gestapo arrested her in Hungary. After two days of interrogation, Skarbek decided to risk everything. It was the greatest acting feat of her. She bit her tongue and began to cough while spitting her blood on the officer. When asked what happened, she replied that she had a severe form of tuberculosis and would die soon. She was immediately taken for a medical examination. During the X-ray, the Hungarian doctor noticed traces of the disease in her lungs. Only Skarbek knew that these traces were a remnant of a minor illness she had contracted during her work in a Fiat factory from the pre-war period. Terrified of tuberculosis, the Germans said she would die soon anyway, so they released her home. To help her escape, the British embassy gave her a British passport and a new name. Krystyna Skarbek became Christine Granville.

Skarbek provided the British with countless valuable information. Data on where the German army is stationed, documentation on German war crimes and cruelty towards civilians, and the date of the German attack on the USSR (Operation Barbarossa). No wonder Churchill called her his favorite spy.

During a mission in southeastern France, she took the name Pauline Armand. As a courier of a spy network, she moved alone through enemy-held territory, conveying messages between the members, preparing and coordinating actions, and keeping everyone motivated. Skarbek also took an active part in the attacks of guerrillas on bridges and German ammunition dumps in France.

After her mission in France, she returned to London. During that time, Warsaw was engulfed by the uprising. She wanted to help her compatriots in the fight for the liberation of the capital, but her superiors refused her pleas. Embittered, Skarbek returned to Cairo, where she was demobilized. When the war ended, the SOE paid Skarbek off. With only 100 pounds! She never returned to active service. What did Skarbek do after her spy career? She was a maid, telephone operator, saleswoman, and ship purser.

She could ski over the hazardous mountains and cross snowy hills. She carried a pistol and a knife, as it was no big deal. She delivered the messages that were a threat to her life. Skarbek was the perfect spy. A charismatic, fearless, and altogether extraordinary woman. Despite having had a lot of success in her life, she didn’t get the happiness and respect she deserved. She was too Polish for the Britons, too British for the Poles, too Jewish for everyone, and just too feminine… The woman who risked it all found no hero who could save her. Christine was murdered in a London hotel. Her killer was a man she’d met while working on a passenger ship, the man who became violently obsessed with her.

Jolanta Ciopcińska

Sources:
Clare Mulley: The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville
Historia.org.pl : Krystyna Skarbek – zapomniana bohaterka

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