There’s a new memorial on South Bank, unveiled yesterday - but who is it? What’s it a memorial for? Who is the determined-looking woman facing the Thames so boldly? It’s Violette Szabo. Yeah, who?
You may not have heard of her before, but that’s because she was very good at her job. Szabo hailed from Brixton and became one of the bravest and most fearsome secret agents in World War II. She joined undercover operations in France and was no shrinking violet; while ‘Allo, ‘Allo paints the resistance as a gang of rather saucy ladies prone to badly accented innuendo as they nip in and out of Rene’s bar, there was serious risk of torture and death for any of the real resistance fighters who got caught. And Szabo did get caught by the German forces shortly after D-Day and she did get tortured then killed by them. But she didn’t give up a single piece of information while under interrogation and her brave service is remembered with this new memorial.
All members of the wartime unit Special Operations Executive are commemorated alongside Szabo in this memorial and many are pleased that the SOE have something to mark their service. However, there is some dissent that the SOE were entirely a force for good: there was resentment within the military directed at a unit seemingly operating beyond any obvious, liable agency. And where the SOE acted there were often reprisals on locals, often bloody with high civilian death tolls.
Whatever attitude towards the SOE, the memorial for them is out in the open now and finally the undercover agents can pair their names and faces to their actions.
Image of South Bank from the Thames by Matt From London