As anyone who has read about the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and SOE (Special Operations Executive) of World War II knows, Virginia Hall is one of the true rock stars of the clandestine services for both Britain and the United States. 

In the outstanding book, “A Woman of No Importance,” Sonia Purnell tells a riveting tale of the true work in the shadows: the life of a clandestine operator in German-occupied France during the Second World War. The Germans were notoriously brutal in their methods and any agents that were discovered were normally tortured and killed. That was difficult enough for the hardiest of souls. But for a Virginia Hall, as a woman with only one leg, it provided the setting of her incredible story that sounds like fiction, but is very much true.

Today, we’re used to seeing many soldiers continue their careers after losing a leg, as the area of prosthetics has made tremendous progress and very little is impossible for the injured party. But 86 years ago, those advancements were still light-years away. 

Virginia Hall lost her leg in a snipe hunting accident in Turkey in 1933. Rather than be defined by her disability, she defied it and led an incredibly active life and named her prosthetic leg Cuthbert.

Purnell did painstaking research in the archives of SOE, OSS and the CIA (which Hall would join after the OSS). The amount she uncovered is amazingly detailed, especially considering that Hall, even long after the war, liked to keep in the shadows: She eschewed the spotlight and never called attention to herself.

The redheaded and beautiful Hall left Baltimore to study abroad in Paris. She wanted to be a foreign service officer in the State Department but due to her hunting accident, she was only made a clerk. 

While fleeing France, after its fall in the spring of 1940, she met an SOE operative on a train and was immediately recruited. She became the first SOE female operative placed into occupied France.