You gotta hand it to the British Broads of WWII. This Agent is losing track of exactly how many stories there are of the dames being deposited behind enemy lines via parachute where they raised all sorts of covert-hell. Pearl Witherington Cornioley (1914-2008) is yet another one of these stories.

Pearl, although a British subject, was born and raised in France until such time the Germans invaded in 1940 and she fled to London with her family. Pearl took on a number of jobs to assist in the war effort and eventually went to work for the Air Ministry. Not happy sitting a desk job, this dame volunteered for the SOE in 1943 where she garnered mixed reviews from the critics. On one hand, she seemed to have lacked the “personality” to be a “real leader”. On the other hand, the dame was the best sharpshooter the service had ever seen, either male or female, and apparently was pretty comfortable being dropped out of perfectly good airplane.

Despite any doubts her superiors may have had, Pearl was sent to the southern Loire region in France and worked as a courier for the local resistance until their leader was captured and shipped off to the friendly neighborhood Concentration Camp. Pearl took over the unit of local farmers and is noted for having whipped the group into prime shape. During her time there, Pearl and her men disrupted a train line to Paris no less than 800 times . Also the broad who was assumed to have “lacked” the ability to lead, led her rag-tag farmers to disrupt German D-Day communications and oversaw the the surrender of no less that 18,000 German troops…effectively putting to end any further doubts regarding Pearl’s ability to lead, one should think.

After the war, Pearl married and waged her own war against the British government for failing to properly recognize her efforts. As a woman, Pearl was ineligible to receive the Military Cross and the government instead tried to bestow upon her the MBE, a civilian honor to which Pearl replied that there was “nothing civil” about her actions during the war and rejected the award.

In a 1945 letter from Pearl to the Powers That Be:

“I am honoured that the British Government should wish to decorate me, but I consider the MBE as inappropriate and do not wish to accept it. The work was of a purely military nature in enemy-occupied country. When the time for open warfare came we planned and executed open attacks on the enemy. I spent a year in the field and had I been caught I would have been shot or, worse still, sent to a concentration camp. I do consider it most unjust to be given a civilian decoration. Our training, which we did with the men, was purely military, and as women we were expected to replace them in the field. I was responsible for the training and organisation of nearly 3,000 men for guerrilla warfare. The men have received military decorations, why this discrimination with women? Precedence? When I undertook my duties in the field I did not take into consideration the fact that my mission had no precedent.”

Go ahead and argue against that! I dare you.

Not surprisingly, Pearl eventually got her way and her proper accolades and died peacefully this last February at the ripe of age of 93 in her beloved France.

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