The young lady in the photo is Sonya D’Artois, who, at the age of 20, parachuted into France, behind enemy lines, just prior to the D-Day invasion.
I began writing this on June 6, 2019; the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I had spent a good portion of the day watching and listening to politicians, and much more importantly, to the veterans who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. And better to focus on the true heroes, rather than politicians who say all the nice things about veterans, and who for the most part, have been at arm’s length or longer from any military service (as in bone spurs, opposition to conscription, etc).
Sonya D’Artois (nee Butt) was born in Kent. England in 1924, and as a child of divorced parents, spent much of her time with her mother in the south of France, able to speak flawless French as a result. At the age of seventeen and a half (the minimum age required) Sonya joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (the WAAF).
In 1943 Sonya was recruited by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and on May 28. 1944, was one of 50 female secret agents parachuted into France, as a courier between resistance groups and as a weapons instructor. At one point she was captured by the Germans, and after four hours was released after checking her papers (although they were false and in the name of Suzanne Bonvie). Further along, working as a courier, she was knocked from her bicycle by Germans soldiers and raped, and yet was able to continue on her mission.
By all accounts, Sonya was fortunate, if that can be said, as of the original 50 female SOE secret agents, only 13 returned to England after the War.
For her service and courage she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire.
Lionel Guy D’Artois (above) was born in 1917 in Richmond, Quebec. In 1939 he dropped his studies at the Université de Montréal to enlist. He too joined the SOE and in April of 1944 parachuted into France to conjoin with the Free French Forces. In recognition of his service, “Guy” was awarded the Croix de Guerre from France, and the Distinguished Service Medal from Britain. I am certain his greatest award was his marriage to Sonya. In late 1944 they settled in Quebec. Guy remained in the military for the next three decades, while the couple raised 6 children. Guy passed on in 1999, while Sonya died in 2014, at the age of 90.
I discovered in my research that Sonya D’Artois and Nancy Wake had forged a relationship that began during the War years and endured until Ms Wake’s death in 2011. You may recall an earlier blog (November 2018) in which I described the heroic exploits of Ms. Wake during World War II.
Whenever I hear comments about the lack of recognition of equality for women, whether in the workplace or in different cultures, it is stories of women like Ms. D’Artois and Ms. Wake that serve as a reminder that women have no equal. And here they are … Sonya on the right.