MARY ANGLAND profiles Patricia O’Sullivan, the convent-educated Irish nurse who became a spy behind enemy lines during WW2


London, 3rd September 1939: “I am speaking … from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.” (Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister)

Following Britain’s declaration, there followed the so called ‘Phoney War’, an eight-month period when little fighting took place in the West. This period ended abruptly in April 1940 with the German invasion of Norway.

With frightening rapidity, the Germans, using Blitzkrieg – a combination of air power, armoured tanks and infantry combined with speed and surprise – advanced southwards into the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Britain and France, completely taken by surprise, were unable to halt the German offensive.

By the summer of 1940, Chamberlain had been replaced by Winston Churchill, France had fallen to the relentless Nazi war machine, British troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk, and Britain stood alone against Hitler. The German air force, the Luftwaffe, prepared itself for bombing Britain before the launch of a land invasion and the RAF took to the skies in a desperate attempt to repel the Luftwaffe while Britain scrambled to prepare for war.

In July 1940, a new volunteer force, Special Operations Executive (SOE), was officially set up by Churchill to ‘set Europe ablaze’ by fighting a secret war against Germany. Its agents were dropped behind enemy lines to liaise with resistance groups.

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