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Pearl Witherington Cornioley (1914–2008)

Author of Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent

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Pearl Witherington was born in Paris to British expatriate parents. After they separated in 1931 and her father died the following year, 17-year-old Pearl became head of the family, supporting her mother and two younger sisters. She got a job as a secretary at the British Embassy and became secretly engaged to Henri Cornioley, the brother of one of her school friends. When the Germans invaded France in World War II, she escaped with her family to London, where she joined the the clandestine Special Operations Executive (SOE) and trained as an agent for F (for France) Section. She was dropped by parachute into Occupied France in 1943 and joined Maurice Southgate, leader of the SOE "Stationer" network, working as his courier until he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944. She then became leader of the "Wrestler" network, which fielded more than 1,500 Resistance members. This group played an important role fighting the German Army during the D-Day landings in June 1944, and then continued major guerilla operations. After the war, Pearl married Henri Cornioley, with whom she had a daughter. She took part in a publicity tour of the USA, talking about her life as a secret agent. She and her husband went back to Paris, where she began a long career working at the World Bank. In 1991, they helped to establish a memorial in Valençay, commemorating the 104 F Section agents who did not return. In 1999, Pearl also became honorary president of Fédération Nationale Libre Résistance, an association set up to remember the work of F Section’s agents and staff. She published her memoirs, Pauline (later issued as Code Name Pauline), with journalist Hervé Larroque in 1997. Much of her wartime service also is described in the book Behind Enemy Lines with the SAS (2007). While the French government awarded her the Legion of Honor, the Croix de Guerre, and the Médaille de la Résistance, British recognition of her dedication and courage was much delayed.
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