Book Review

Madame Fourcade’s secret war on Nazis

Fourcade
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Summary

  • Madame Fourcade was initially something of an accidental leader since her first impulse was wounded pride for her country and a desire to fight against the Germans.
  • At age 31, she was an upper-middle-class single mother of two who had grown up rebelling against her own strict patriarchal upbringing.
  • A non-conformist from her youth, she originally joined a fledgling resistance network in 1940 led by French General whose respect she quickly earned through hard work, passionate commitment to the cause, and quick, keen intelligence.

As the full story of Kenya’s anti-colonial struggle against the British Empire increasingly comes to light, we learn that women played a critical role in the resistance. We now know they served as spies, messengers, and gatherers of vital intelligence that helped to ultimately win Kenya’s independence.

So, it may not come as much of a surprise to learn about one French woman, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who led the largest spy network against the Nazi occupation of her country during World War Two.

Few people ever heard of Fourcade until several months ago when the American historian Lynne Olson published her book on Madame Fourcade’s ‘Secret war’.

But at the height of the war, Fourcade had more than 3000 spies who were part of her ‘Alliance’ network.

Most of them were ordinary people who were as incensed as she was about the Nazi invasion and occupation of her country.

She equally despised the Vichy government, set up as puppets by the Germans, rather like the Kenyan Home Guards who served the British colonisers and were seen as traitors to their own people by Mau Mau sympathisers, many of whom were also ordinary people.

Madame Fourcade was initially something of an accidental leader since her first impulse was wounded pride for her country and a desire to fight against the Germans.

At age 31, she was an upper-middle-class single mother of two who had grown up rebelling against her own strict patriarchal upbringing.

A non-conformist from her youth, she originally joined a fledgling resistance network in 1940 led by French General whose respect she quickly earned through hard work, passionate commitment to the cause, and quick, keen intelligence.

Her organisational skills were also apparent early on. So, when the General got captured, he had already informed his network they were to respect and follow her lead.

She would be in charge if anything happened to him. Thus, she became the de facto leader who proved her capability many times over during the war.

The book reads like a mystery thriller filled with many dramatic moments. For instance, Madame Fourcade was captured by the Gestapo twice, yet twice she escaped. Her network was closely allied with the British intelligence network, M16. Her people’s spying provided such vital information that the British, who had looked like they were destined to be conquered by the Germans, were ultimately able to destroy countless Nazi submarines which had been instrumental in German efforts to keep the Americans out of the war.

Fourcade was conscious of anti-female bias. But her charisma, beauty, youthful charm, and genius enabled her to prove the authenticity of her commitment to the liberation of France. Plus, the resistance movement that she effectively led was united in its people’s passionate love of their country and desire to, by any means necessary, oust the Nazis.

The book is a page-turner that is also a marvellous testimony to the leadership capacity of a woman who was single-minded in her dedication to liberty, equality, and fraternity.