During World War II, many of the best operatives of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), were women. They worked undercover, putting their lives at risk in occupied France, and running agent networks, conducting sabotage, and training the French Maquis. 

Many lost their lives or went sent off to concentration camps as the German Gestapo found out their true identities. Odette Hallowes, a member of the SOE, was arrested by the Gestapo, brutally tortured and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp; but she survived to tell her tale and would go down as one of the most decorated agents of World War II. 

Hallowes was awarded the Georges Cross, made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, and the French Legion d’Honneur among other awards and decorations. There have been books written about her as well as a film on her wartime exploits. On Friday, March 6, the Great Western Railway (GWR) named a train after her. 

“We are so moved by this honor,” her granddaughter Sophie Parker said.

“It’s a wonderful way to recognize what Odette did, but also a way to make sure that people like her are not forgotten.”

“We have heard details of Odette’s remarkable story. Her bravery was inspirational and her survival extraordinary,” said Princess Anne, who attended the ceremony on Friday morning. “She would never accept any recognition for her special contribution without reminding us that she was only a face of a wider body of operations, made possible through a network of dedicated teams behind the scenes, as well as those like her who were prepared to infiltrate enemy lines.

Odette Marie Léonie Céline Brailly was born on April 28, 1912, in Amiens, France. She was sickly as a child and suffered from polio and an illness that left her blind for over three years. When she was just 19, she met and married an Englishman, Roy Samson. The couple moved to England where they had three daughters.

At the start of the war, she and the children moved for safety to Somerset. Early in 1942, the British Admiralty requested any photos of the French coastline that English citizens had, to be used for the war. She sent pictures of Boulougne but mistakenly sent them to the War Office, where they were seen by Maurice Buckmaster, the head of SOE. She was quickly recruited and given a cover position in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.