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Top 5 books on women in wartime

Dr Kate Vigurs picks a list of books which look back on stories that are stirring, tragic and empowering

For her PhD, Historian Dr Kate Vigurs studied the women agents of the Special Operations Executive, a secret British organisation formed to coordinate resistance work overseas during World War 2. 

More than four hundred agents were sent to France, including thirty-nine women. While some are widely known, others have had their stories largely overlooked. 

In her new book, Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE, Dr Vigurs interweaves the stories of all thirty-nine female agents for the first time, tracing their journeys from early recruitment to work undertaken in the field. 

Here, for International Women’s Day, she gives us her top 5 books on women in wartime. 

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Flames in the Field by Rita Kramer

The tragic story of Andrée Borrel, Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh and Sonia Olschanezky of the Special Operations Executive who were executed at Natzweiler concentration camp in July 1944.The reader learns about their lives and follows them through their last few hours. Grisly but fascinating.

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A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead

The true story of 230 French women resisters who, in January 1943, were deported in convoy 31000 from Paris to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was the only train to take women of the resistance to a death camp. A story of friendship, determination and survival.

The Italian Wife by Kate Furnivall

This story of intrigue, power struggles and murder is set in pre-war Italy against a backdrop of rising fascism and Mussolini’s increasing power. In a world where no one knows who they can trust or who is on their side, the main character, Isabella Berotti, fights for what she believes is right.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

The story of three women intertwine to make a beautiful fictitious story taking the reader from the dazzling lights of New York City to the depravity of Ravensbrück concentration camp. This tale is one of ttragedy, friendship, but most importantly hope. 

Hitler’s Furies by Wendy Lower

A sinister and darkly compelling book about the women of the Third Reich. The ordinary women who became SS wives and mothers, and who in turn became brutal killers and perpetrators of murder and genocide.

Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE by Kate Vigurs is out on May 11 (Yale University Press, £20) 

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