Over the last twenty years, I’ve written eight books of history, most of which deal in some way with World War II and Britain’s role in that war. The books have another common thread: they all focus in some way on unsung heroes — people of courage and conscience who helped change their country and the world but who, for various reasons, have slipped into the shadows of history. Since most of my books deal with war, it’s perhaps not surprising that the majority of heroes I’ve spotlighted have been men. But my next book — Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led the Largest French Spy Network Against Hitler — is a major exception. It will be published by Random House in the early spring of 2019.
It’s the amazing, little-known story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a Frenchwoman born to privilege and known for her beauty and glamor, who at the age of 31, became the head of a vast Resistance intelligence organization called Alliance— the only woman to serve as a chef de résistance during World War II. No other French spy network lasted as long or supplied as much crucial intelligence to Allied military commanders, and as a result, the Gestapo pursued Fourcade and Alliance relentlessly, capturing, torturing, and executing hundreds of her three thousand agents. She herself was captured twice but escaped both times — and continued to hold Alliance together, even as it repeatedly threatened to crumble around her.
Yet as remarkable as Fourcade and her achievements were, she and her network remain virtually unknown. As a female chef, she does not fit into the traditional historical narrative of the French resistance — namely, that all its leaders were men. The purpose of this book then is to tell her story and give her the credit she is due. It also shines a spotlight on her thousands of agents — ordinary men and women who refused to be silenced and who fought against the destruction of freedom and human dignity in their country. Their moral and physical courage has particular resonance in our own troubled times.