secret agent nurse: for king and country

…Though his one fact-finding sortie behind enemy lines was a failure that ended in his capture and hanging, Nathan Hale remains America’s favorite spy, largely because of the words he is said to have uttered just before dying: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” But Hale’s country has no corner, of course, on patriotic spies.

A classic example of the genus was a Flemish woman named Marthe Cnockaert, who worked for British intelligence in German-occupied Belgium in World War One- while working for another, quite different job for the Germans. As Winston Churchill admiringly summed up her career by mentioning that she was such a proficient spy that she was actually awarded the German Iron Cross.

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Caught at last, she was condemned to be shot, but because of her hospital work her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. So Marthe Cnockaert, unlike Nathan Hale, did not die for her country. Indeed, with the victory of the Allies, she was set free- and promptly married a British officer who had been among Belgium’ liberators. The German decorated nurse was subsequently decorated as a spy by Britain, France, and Belgium. No wonder her memoirs end on a cheery note: ” for me..the war brought happiness.”


(see link at end)…After German troops razed her small Belgian village in 1914, 22-year-old Marthe Cnockaert remained sympathetic to the Allies but desperate for work to support her family. She took a job at a makeshift hospital for wounded German soldiers, earning the German Iron Cross for her medical service. When a neighbor approached her about spying for the British, Cnockaert initially hesitated but soon embraced her covert role. For two years she coaxed German officers into casually spilling military secrets, which she promptly passed on to other undercover agents. But that wasn’t all: The demure nurse also arranged the murder of a German who wanted her to inform on the British, blew up a German ammunitions depot, directed airplane strikes and helped POWs escape—all while struggling with the guilt of endangering the injured men she’d treated. Imprisoned for two years after the Germans caught wind of her extracurricular activities, Cnockaert was later honored by Winston Churchill and wrote a book about her wartime experiences. Read More:

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