Flying low over the mountain range separating wartime Czechoslovakia and Poland, the Luftwaffe fighter pilot aimed his machine gun fire at the beautiful young woman walking alone in the dangerous terrain below.
It is undoubtedly Christine Granville, Winston Churchill’s favorite spy, long suspected of smuggling money, explosives and anti-German propaganda to European resistance fighters.
And now, at last, she was “trapped like an ant on a tablecloth,” as the pilot who spotted her put it.
But they had underestimated her courage – and the fact that she was immune to fear.
As bullets tossed dirt all around her, Granville – then in her thirties – zigzagged back and forth, playing hide-and-seek while sheltering behind rocks and dodging pursuers for hours until what she finally shakes them.
Christine Granville inspired the James Bond character ‘Vesper Lynd’ who was portrayed by French actress Eva Green (pictured) in the 2008 adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale
It was not the first—nor the last—time that Granville would confuse the enemy.
She became the first and longest serving female special agent working for Britain during World War II, and was the inspiration behind the character of sultry spy Vesper Lynd in Ian Fleming’s debut 007 novel Casino. Royale, which was published in 1953.
Now Lynd’s extraordinary real-life story will be told in The Partisan, a new film in which she will be played by Morgane Polanski, the 30-year-old daughter of controversial director Roman Polanski.
Slated for release next year, it promises to be gripping, with director James Marquand describing Granville as “the bravest of the brave”.
Fleming himself wrote of Lynd that “Bond was struck by her good looks and intrigued by her poise” – and Granville certainly had both in abundance.
Her admirers described how she used her “bright, brown, striking eyes” and her “crackling vitality” to hypnotic effect to disarm the enemy. But this highly trained agent was more than an exceptionally pretty face.
She carried a seven-inch commando knife in a leather sheath strapped to her thigh, and she preferred hand grenades to firearms. “With a gun you can defend yourself against at most one person,” she once explained. ‘With a hand grenade, against five, maybe ten.
Born Krystyna Skarbek in Poland in 1908, she was driven by an almost pathological need for excitement, which manifested itself from childhood, according to her biographer Clare Mulley in her book, The Spy Who Loved.
The daughter of a poor Catholic aristocrat and his Jewish wife, she was expelled from convent school at age 14 for setting fire to a priest’s cassock during mass.
At 23, she won a beauty pageant in the fashionable resort town of Zakopane, and when the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, she was married to Jerzy Gizycki, a wealthy 20-year-old diplomat. eldest who was consul of Poland in the East. Africa.
The couple returned from Nairobi to London in 1939 and, while Jerzy went to France, as part of the Polish government in exile, Granville presented a dangerous proposal for the sabotage arm of the British Secret Intelligence Service, known as of Section D (for ‘Destruction’).
It’s not entirely clear how she made the leap from beauty queen to international spy, but her plans may have been hatched with Harold Perkins, a tough English businessman, who could bend a poker with his bare hands. .
“Perks,” as Granville called him, had ties to British intelligence. When the introduction to section D was made, the precursors of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) were persuaded that Granville should go to neutral Hungary and from there ski to Poland for the missions which made it a target for this pilot of the Luftwaffe.
Christine Granville, (pictured) who was Winston Churchill’s favorite spy, has long been suspected of smuggling money, explosives and anti-German propaganda to European resistance fighters.
When Granville arrived in Poland in February 1940, it was the worst winter in living memory. The birds froze on the branches of the trees and the bloodstained snow marked the passage of the packs of hungry wolves.
But Granville was fearless, not only reaching Warsaw but finding time to have an affair with Count Wladimir Ledochowski, a member of the Polish resistance.
Their passion was fueled by the dangers they experienced together – she later recalled his fingers drumming coded messages across her naked body as he slept.
But soon she had a more serious relationship in Hungary, with the dashing Andrzej Kowerski, a former lieutenant in the Polish army who smuggled intelligence documents into a secret panel in his wooden leg, following a a hunting accident.
Together they crossed and recrossed the border; and a close shave saw her charm her way out of arrest by telling suspicious border guards she was on a picnic and even persuading them to help start her stalled car.
His fearlessness knew no bounds. In November 1940, she discovered that her mother Stefania, then estranged from her father, had been arrested in Warsaw for not registering as a Jew.
Granville found a Gestapo official who would spare his mother’s life for a price – the equivalent of £3,000 today and a night in her bed. It was only after they slept together that he told her that Stefania had perished in Auschwitz.
The incident only intensified his hatred for the Nazis.
In January 1941, she and Kowerski were arrested by Hungarian police, acting on behalf of the Gestapo. During the interrogation, Granville bit her tongue so hard that it bled; she then began to cough to give the impression that she was drawing blood.
Terrified that she had tuberculosis, her inquisitors released her and Kowerski, who was also found to be contagious. But, clearly, they could no longer continue to operate in Budapest. With the help of British diplomats, they adopted the latest in a long line of false identities: “Andrew Kennedy” and “Christine Granville”.
In July 1944, a month after the D-Day landings, Granville was parachuted into southeastern France. Dressed in clothes cut according to a French pattern and hair done in Paris fashion, she transmitted messages between the various resistance organizations operating there.
As always, she was unfazed under pressure.
On one occasion she was arrested by a Nazi border patrol while openly carrying a British map of France, printed on silk so that it would not rustle inside her clothes if searched.
Unable to hide what she had in her hands, she calmly shook the card and used it to tie up her hair before saluting the soldiers and convincing them that she was a French housewife, making races.
On another occasion, a border patrol spotted her with members of the French resistance. She and the fighters threw themselves under some bushes but were spotted by the Alsatian on the patrol. He was trained in biting and snapping his neck, but Granville quietly put his arm around the animal and as he did, he lay down next to her, ignoring his master’s hisses.
Christine Granville will now play Roman Polanski’s 30-year-old daughter, Morgane Polanski, in a new film called The Partisan
She exerted the same hypnotic influence on the opposite sex. Her marriage to Gizycki had ended in acrimony when he discovered she was seeing other men and, after Kowerski went to work for SOE in Italy, she became involved with Englishman Francis Cammaerts, 28 years old, who had a wife and young children at home.
He was one of SOE’s best agents and they became lovers during a German bombardment one night. “We were all absolutely certain that we were going to die,” he recalls. “It was all over, it was the end.”
A few months later, Granville learned that Cammaerts and two other agents had been arrested and sentenced to death by the Gestapo.
In a move that would almost certainly have seen her executed too, had that failed, she strode into the prison, posing as his wife, and berated the Vichy collaborator responsible for what his fate would be when the Allies would arrive and find that he had allowed the executions to continue.
She later admitted it was “a shot in the dark”. But the officer ended up shaking so much that he spilled his coffee and, with just two hours before their execution, released the three men.
While Cammaerts later confessed that he and Granville were very much in love, they both knew he had a family to return to – and the relationship did not survive the end of the war.
Granville was not ready to return to monotonous civilian life after her wartime adventures. Hungry for whatever excitement she could find, she began working aboard a London-New Zealand liner and embarked on a fateful relationship with fellow steward Dennis Muldowney, a Brylcreemed lothario from Wigan.
She soon grew tired of him and ended the relationship. But when they came ashore, he began stalking her, showing up unannounced at her hotel in west London and refusing to leave her alone.
On June 15, 1952, Granville was back at the hotel after having dinner with friends when Muldowney followed her into the lobby, demanding that she return her love letters.
When she told him she had burned them, he drove a knife deep into her heart. She was dead from shock and hemorrhage within seconds.
Muldowney made no attempt to escape.
He later confessed to the crime and was hanged in Pentonville Prison in September 1952 – a despicable and cowardly footnote in the story of a truly brave woman.