Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Vera Atkins: WWII Spy Boss

Mourning, then Motion Pictures


The SOE closed in 1945.

The Special Forces Club formed in 1946 to preserve the history of the SOE and provide aid for former SOE members.

In 1947, Vera returned to Britain. She rented a remote cottage on the coast of Wales. There she retreated for months, seeing few people. Someone close to her speculated that she took that time to mourn and allow herself to heal.

She had one more reason to mourn that May when her mother, Hilda Rosenberg, died.

London was where Vera went after leaving Wales. She found a job as an office manager with the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges.

In 1948, France recognized Vera's SOE achievements by awarding her the Croix de Guerre, an award for bravery.

<em>Odette</em> Movie Poster
Odette Movie Poster
In 1949, author Jerrard Tickell published a biography of agent Odette Sansom. Vera had served as a primary source for Tickell who penned an inscription into Vera's copy of the book acknowledging her assistance that ended: "For each part, in each latitude/Accept an author's gratitude."

At around this time, Vera won a promotion within the Central Bureau and moved into an apartment conveniently close to the Special Forces Club.

Vera also served as consultant on the film Odette that was released in 1950. It starred Anna Neagle as Odette, Trevor Howard as Peter Churchill and Marius Goring as their captor Hugo Bleicher. Maurice Buckmaster played himself.

At Odette's opening, Vera and Maurice sat in the audience -- as did King George VI and his Queen consort Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

Even as a book and film were being made about Odette, writer Jean Overton Fuller was researching the Noor Inayat Khan story. Fuller sought and received much information from Vera. Madeleine was published in 1952. Vera applauded the book as "a very striking portrait."

Vera was an advisor on the 1958 movie Carve Her Name with Pride about Violette Szabo. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, starring Virginia McKenna as Violete and featuring Avice Landone as Vera, the film received excellent reviews. Sticking close to the facts, Carve Her Name with Pride was praised as a poignant and emotionally powerful motion picture.

For decades, Vera continued working on student exchanges but never forgot the importance of her SOE work. It was because she and others campaigned for F Section memorials that they began to be erected at the former concentration camps during the 1970s. She worked on many aspects of these memorials including fundraising and inscriptions.

In 1991 a special memorial was erected to all F Section dead in the French town of Valençay. For several years, Vera and other SOE people made a pilgrimage to that memorial every May.

When Vera retired from the Central Bureau, she was not idle. In her seventies and eighties, Vera regularly attended parties and special dinners, many of them at the Special Forces Club. She traveled widely in her later years. One trip took her to Egypt.

She moved into the small English town of Winchelsea. Stevenson observes, "Vera soaked herself in the town's history and the significance of events surrounding the Church of St. Thomas the Martyr. She was there in 1988 on the seven-hundredth anniversary of its foundation when the Queen Mother planted a chestnut tree in the churchyard."

Vera was never outspoken about her religious beliefs. We cannot know if she converted to Christianity or if her attendance at a Church of England was an expression of fondness for the church without necessarily sharing its beliefs. In any case, the woman who had been taught to deeply identify as a Jew by the same father who expressed so much admiration for Jesus may have seen the Jewish and Christian traditions as linked in a positive fashion.

The French awarded Vera the prestigious title Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur in 1995.

Shortly after celebrating her ninetieth birthday in 1998, Vera went into a hospital because of an infection. As she was recovering she was moved into a nursing home where she fell and broke a hip. She was transferred to a hospital. Before her hip had a chance to mend, she caught a severe staph infection.

Vera died on June 24, 2000.

Stevenson writes, "A memorial service was held at the Church of St. Thomas the Martyr." The preacher said, "Grant unto her eternal rest." The congregation responded, "And let perpetual light shine upon her."

Although Vera is dead, she will live forever through her influence on the spy novel, a genre dear to her heart. Stevenson observes, "Ian Fleming, who was himself a spy, used Vera as the model for Miss Moneypenny, the secretary to his fictional James Bond, and said, 'In the real world of spies, Vera Atkins was the boss."

Perhaps more importantly, the light Vera Atkins shone continues to shine on a world that is better for the dedication she showed to the cause of freedom.

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