Christine Granville

Christine Granville

Christine Granville, the daughter of Count Jerzy Skarbek, was born in Poland just before the First World War. Privately educated, Christine married Jerzy Gizycki in Warsaw in November 1938.

The couple were in Addis Ababa when Poland was invaded by the German Army on 1st September 1939. They went to stay in England but Christine wanted to become involved in the fight for Polish freedom. Christine eventually settled in Hungary and resumed contact with Andrezej Kowerski, a friend from Poland.

Over the next few months Granville and Kowerski made contact with a network called the Musketeers that were involved in espionage and sabotage in Poland. Christine was arrested on the Slovakian-Polish border and in Hungary but on both occasions she managed to escape. She also provided information to the British government about troop movements that enabled Winston Churchill to predict the invasion of the Soviet Union by the German Army in June 1941.

Christine and Andrzej Kowerski were eventually recruited by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). On 6th July 1944 she was dropped into occupied France where she joined Francis Cammaerts, head of the Jockey Network in south-eastern France. She replaced Cecily Lefort who had just been arrested by the Gestapo.

On 11th August, 1944, Cammaerts and Xan Fielding were captured while travelling from Apt to Seyne. They were taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Digne. Three days later the Allies began landing in the south of France. Fearing that the men would be shot before the arrival of British soldiers, Christine went to see Albert Schenck, the liaison officer between the French prefecture and the Gestapo. She told Schenck that the Maquis knew about the arrests and would arrange for him to be killed unless he released the men. Schenck knew that it was only a matter of days before the Germans would be overrun by the Allies. However, he did not have the power to release them but he contacted Max Waem and after the payment of two million francs the men were given their freedom.

After the war Christine worked as a telephonist at India House, a saleswoman at Harrods and as stewardess on the liners Rauhine and the Winchester Castle. While working on liners she met, George Muldowney, a bathroom steward. Muldowney fell in love with her. She rejected his advances and on 15th June, 1952, he stabbed her in the heart with a knife. Muldowney was executed for her murder on 30th September 1952.

Madeleine Masson's biography, A Search for Christine Granville was published by Hamish Hamilton in 1975.

Primary Sources

(1) Xan Fielding, who served with Christine Granville in the Jockey Network wrote about her in his book Hide and Seek (1954)

Ever since the military collapse of her own country, Poland, she had been employed on the most hazardous missions in other parts of Occupied Europe; and this reputation of hers had led me to expect in her the heroic attributes which I fancied I immediately divined beneath her nervous gestures and breathless manner of speech. Not that she in any way resembled the classical conception of a female spy, even though she had the glamour that is conventionally associated with one; but this she preferred to camouflage in an austere blouse and skirt, which with her short, carelessly-combed dark hair and the complete absence of make-up on her delicately featured face gave her the appearance of an athletic art student.

(2) Aidan Crawley met Christine Granville during the Second World War.

She was quite lovely, fragile, small-boned and delicately made. She was very attractive to men but was not much interested in women. She often vanished but she always told us where she had been. She was kind and intelligent and she hated hurting people. This was finally to be her undoing. She was stifled by an ordinary climate of living. When I discussed bravery with her, she laughed and said that when she was in the field and a crisis occurred, she was generally too busy to be frightened. She was an eminently practical soldier.

(3) Patrick Howarth was a member of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. He wrote about Christine Granville in his book Undercover: The Men and Women of the Special Operations Executive (1980)

When Christine heard of the arrest she set off for Digne prison immediately. An elderly and kindly gendarme, whom she had approached with a request that she might be allowed to bring some necessities to her husband in prison, put her in touch with an Alsatian named Albert Schenck, who served as a kind of liaison officer between the French prefecture and the German Sicherheitsdienst. To Schenck Christine announced that she was not only a British agent but Cammaert's wife and, for good measure. General Montgomery's niece. The lesson she had learnt from her relationship with Admiral Horthy had not been forgotten. She also made the point that as Allied forces had now landed in southern France it would be very much in Schenck's interests to secure the release of Cammaerts and his fellow prisoners. Schenck told Christine that he himself could do nothing but that there was a Belgian named Max Waem who had more authority and might be willing to help. He did not think that Waem would be interested in any transaction which brought him less than two million francs.

(4) Xan Fielding, Hide and Seek (1954)

Christine Granville who had for her own volition risked the death penalty, the responsibility must have been almost beyond endurance. For apart from the consideration of personal courage, she had also to decide whether from the SOE point of view her action was wholly permissible. As an individual she would not have hesitated to barter her life for the lives of three others. As an agent, however, she was obliged to assess the value of those lives against hers; and if hers proved to be worth more, it was her duty to keep it.

In the assessment she made it was Francis Cammaerts's life that weighed the scales in favour of the decision. Had not Francis Cammaerts been arrested with us, Christine would have been perfectly justified in taking no action if action meant jeopardizing herself. Indirectly, then, I owe my life to him as much as I do, directly, to her.

(5) Vera Atkins, interviewed by Madeleine Masson for her book, Christine (1975)

Christine was a woman of quite unusual character. She was very brave, very attractive, but a loner and a law unto herself. She was utterly loyal and dedicated to the Allies, and nothing would have made her betray her trust. After the war she was quite unable to adapt herself to a boring day to day routine of work. She lived for action and adventure. Don't diminish her by white-washing her faults. She was no plaster saint. She was a vital, healthy, beautiful animal with a great appetite for love and laughter, and she had tremendous guts.

(6) Francis Cammaerts wrote a foreword for Madeleine Masson's book on the life of Christine Granville, Christine (1975)

It is impossible to read a book about someone you have known well without imagining the reactions of the subject to the book and to its treatment. I believe that friends of Christine would agree that her reaction to this, and to any book about her would have been an outburst of mocking laughter; "a book about me, how ridiculous, what is all the fuss about?" She would certainly have claimed that there were many other people more interesting and more important who would be delighted to have books written about them, so why pick on her? She did not want to be known, or admired as a person who had done many brave things during the war, she wanted to be known and appreciated for herself.

I have no doubt that, since this book will be read by many because of its association with the war, Christine would have felt as I do that to focus attention on an individual or on individuals creates an inevitable distortion of the truth. Living and struggling from day to day within a community where total interdependence was the essence of everyday life, the singling out of individuals cannot give a picture of reality. Individual agents either in France or in Poland were dependent for every meal and every night's rest on people whose small children, aged parents, property and livelihood were continually put at risk by our presence. Their contribution involved a much greater sacrifice than ours.