‘Churchill’s favourite spy’, a Polish-Jewish woman, honoured with Blue Plaque
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‘Churchill’s favourite spy’, a Polish-Jewish woman, honoured with Blue Plaque

Christine Granville - born Krystyna Skarbek - recognised for her exploits during the war, which included saving secret agents from execution

Christine Granville, born Krystyna Skarbek to a Jewish mother and Christian father, was “Churchill’s favourite spy” for her incredible wartime exploits operating behind enemy lines.  (Credit: English Heritage)
Christine Granville, born Krystyna Skarbek to a Jewish mother and Christian father, was “Churchill’s favourite spy” for her incredible wartime exploits operating behind enemy lines. (Credit: English Heritage)

A Jewish woman from Poland who became a top British spy during the Second World War has been honoured with a Blue Plaque in Kensington.

Christine Granville, born Krystyna Skarbek to a Jewish mother and Christian father, was “Churchill’s favourite spy” for her incredible wartime exploits operating behind enemy lines. She survived the war only to be killed in 1952 by an obsessed stalker.

A law unto herself, Granville was first female special agent of Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), conducting espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance missions in Nazi-occupied Europe. She was motivated to sign up in 1939 after the Nazis invaded her homeland, and was ultimately its longest serving agent.

Her recruiter called her “a flaming Polish patriot, expert skier and great adventuress”, a description she lived up to across the continent, albeit as many aliases.

Among her exploits she crossed the snow-bound Polish border on skis in temperatures of -30°C, smuggled microfilm across Europe to show Hitler’s USSR invasion plans and rescued French agents from the Gestapo.

Krystyna Skarbek
(Wikipedia / Source: Scan of identity paper dated 11 mai 1945 (1945-05-11), on http://culture.pl/en/article/the-polish-jewish-countess-who-became-britains-finest-secret-agent)

She also secured the defection of an entire German garrison in a strategic pass in the Alps and saved the lives of many of her male colleagues. Most think she was the inspiration for Vesper Lynd, a spy in Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel, Casino Royale.

AJEX wartime archivist Martin Sugarman said: “Skarbek was Jewish, her mother being a member of the Goldfeder Polish banking family who married a minor Polish impoverished aristocrat. She was proudly Jewish. This is clear in all three books written about her.”

Anna Eavis, curator at English Heritage, said Granville served Britain “bravely and brilliantly” during the war, adding: “We hope that our blue plaque will help more people to discover her remarkable story and her connection with London.”

Granville biographer Clare Mulley said she was “one of the most effective special agents to serve Britain during the Second World War, male or female… Her achievements led Churchill to call her his favourite spy, and Britain to honour her with the George Medal and OBE”.

Christine Granville, born Krystyna Skarbek, honoured with a blue plaque (Credit: English Heritage)

Arkady Rzegocki, the Polish Ambassador to London, said: “Krystyna Skarbek’s contribution to the Allied effort is undeniable and she reminds us about the close and effective cooperation between Polish and British intelligence services.”

The English Heritage plaque was placed during a small ceremony last week at 1 Lexham Gardens Hotel, once the site of Shelbourne Hotel, where Granville was based after the war, in the centre of the city’s Polish community.

 

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