Isabel, Brime Declaration 2022

Isabel Brime is a sophomore majoring in Public Relations, Advertising, and Applied Communications (PRAAC) at the Florida International University’s Honors College. She hopes to pursue a career in travel or entertainment marketing. Coming from a Mexican background and culture, she was raised in a Spanish-speaking household along her two sisters. She loves to travel and add new adventures to her long list of hobbies: running, wakeboarding, paddle boarding, singing, writing, producing & editing videos, sewing and spending time with her family and friends.

Declaration Project: Marie-Madeleiene Fourcade

“L’Espionne Secrète Oublié” by Isabel Brime of FIU Honors College on April 25, 2022.

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade’s false identity card under the name Marie Suzanne Imbert.Credit…Tallandier – Rue des Archives/Granger, NY

Historical Context

On September 1, 1939, Germany decided to invade Poland. Three days later, France declared war against Germany to defend Poland, starting World War II. Germany decided to then attack France’s impenetrable line of defense, the Maginot Line. To do so, Germany  decided to go around and attack France from  the Ardennes forest by using their new war technique, Blitzkrieg, which meant lightning war. This tactic worked for Germany by having tanks run over the French line of defense and pave the way for the German army to directly follow and break the army supply chain and communication. In about a couple weeks, French government officials and military leaders gathered with the German army to surrender and give up the country for the German Occupation. This surrender was meant to protect the rest of France from being completely  destroyed and allowed German soldiers to occupy France. The people of France decided to take matters into their own hands by creating the resistance (France during World War II: Occupation and resistance).

The French resistance wanted to sabotage supply lines for the German army, by stealing and destroying information, killing generals, and using all efforts to make it difficult for Germany to win the war. One successful tactic was infiltrating spies. Being a spy was one of the riskiest jobs, because if caught, they were tortured for their information and then killed. Many French were recruited by the British army and taken to basic training, where they were taught how to use weapons, read and write encrypted messages, morse code, destroy tanks, and other physical training to prepare them before sending them to the front line. They were parachuted into enemy lines and territory, where they then established contact with their commanders for further instruction and orders. The Royal Air Force (RAF) airdropped spies and supplied bombs, weapons, explosives, ammunition, and other equipment required for completing their missions. There were many heroes among the French spies, many of them died for the cause. One recognized French spy was Marie Madeleine Fourcade, who wasn’t just fighting against the Germans, but was also a woman fighting for human rights.

“Women in WWII.” Women and War, http://what-when-how.com/women-and-war/france-resistance-during-world-war-ii-women-and/.

Women’s Roles – Gender and sexuality

During the 1940s, Germans were on high alert for sabotage attacks, because Men of the French resistance were mostly responsible for these damages against the German army. Germans targeted French men as they were on the lookout for any plan that could affect the third German Reich. In the 40s and even earlier, a woman’s only role was at home, with very little legal importance and rights. At that time, many thought that women were not capable of helping the French resistance, so they were not allowed to join. Women were not even granted the right to vote in France up until 1944. However, when the Germans started to occupy French territory, many brave women stepped forward and joined the French resistance. Some women started working as spies, which ended up being an effective tactic in the war. 

At the time, many women held office jobs, so women took advantage. Some women pretended to be hired for secretary and related office jobs inside the German army, but in reality they were there as spies. This was key for the intelligence of the French resistance, because the women would be hearing strategy plans and other key information. Women spies were also effective, because they could take advantage of their physique and beauty. Beautiful French girls caught the attention of German commanders, who would often flirt with them, never expecting them to be spies. Some commanders often unknowingly confessed their plans to gain their attention. Because many thought women could not hold important military or war roles, the German soldiers completely overlooked them, making it possible for women to sneak into strategic places carrying messages or supplies for sabotage missions (Haynes A call to spy real history: Women spies in WWII). Many men held the belief that they were superior to men and that women were inferior. Men thought that women shouldn’t be working as spies and instead should be helping the resistance in other areas of the French army, such as kitchens and hospitals. They believed women would be too weak for the job, because it was a heavily demanding risk. If spies got caught, they were tortured until they confessed everything they knew, so the job was considered only for “real men”. Thankfully, spies like Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who even led entire operations, proved them wrong.

“Marie-Madeleine Attending a Plenary Session of the European Parliament in 1980. .” Forgotten Female Spymaster, European Union, https://www.timesofisrael.com/forgotten-female-spymaster-led-french-resistances-largest-intelligence-ring/.

Religion, Philosophy, and Early Life

Marie-Madeleine Bridou (later known as Marie-Madeleine Fourcade) was born on November 8, 1909 in Marseille, France to a wealthy family. Her father, Lucien Bridou, was the executive of a steamship company, so they spent a lot of time in China. Marie-Madeleine also grew up with her mother, Mathilde, and her siblings, Yvonne and Jacques. (The beautiful spy: The unsung heroine of World War II). Marie-Madeleine attended a convent school in Shanghai and later the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris (Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, French resistance leader, dies at 79). She got married in 1929 and had two children, Christian and Béatrice, with her first husband French army officer, Edouard Meric, but quickly separated. Marie-Madeleine not only separated from her husband, but from her children as well, because long periods of time would pass without her being able to see them. A few months after Marie-Madeleine’s divorce was finalized, she married industrialist Hubert Fourcade on November 20, 1947. Before the war began, Marie-Madeleine worked in Paris at a job in the radio industry, also earned a pilot’s license and competed in auto races (Tenorio et al. Forgotten female spymaster led French resistance’s largest intelligence ring).

When Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was asked what she’d done during World War II, she described herself as “the wife of an officer, the mother of a family, a member of no political party, and a Catholic” (Resistance is a state of mind: On Lynne Olson’s “Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The daring young woman who led France’s largest spy network against Hitler”). As per her self description, one can infer that her religion was a very important part of her life. Marie-Madeleine Bridou was born and baptized Catholic in Marseille. While she and her family lived in Shanghai, because of her dad’s job,  her family kept very close to the almost nonexistent Catholic community in China. After her father passed away, her family returned to France, where she attended Couvent Des Oiseaux, a boarding school founded by Mother Marie-Euphrasie, canoness of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. She was a nationalist and anti-Semitic, most likely as a result of her Catholic upbringing. 

Although the practicing of her faith is not a matter found in history books, it is often briefly mentioned through different anecdotes. She even wrote a memoire of her life as a spy and named it Noah’s Ark, a biblical reference. When Marie-Madeleine had been captured by the Gestapo she asked a Catholic priest for permission to take cyanide pills, because suicide is considered a mortal sin in her Catholic faith. The priest advised her not to worry and said it would not be considered suicide, rather a matter of resistance. Luckily, she survived (Remembering a woman who was a leader … – The New York Times)She has always been referred to as upholding many Catholic values. She was described as having more willpower than most men, but never losing her feminine genius and her natural care for others around her (Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, French resistance leader, dies at 79). Even at the end of the war, Fourcade kept up her courageous fight to defend liberties. When her children asked why they were away from their mother for long periods of time, she claimed that she had a job where she played a fun game by hiding, disguising, tricking, and keeping quiet (Provence Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, au bout de la résistance (2/2) – memoires de guerre). On July 20, 1989, Marie-Madeleine Foucade died at the age of 80. At the time of her death, she was shown exceptional homage by the government and survivors of the resistance. Her funeral was held in the Saint-Louis Church of the Invalid and then became the first woman to be buried at the Cimentière du Pèrelachaise in Paris (Marie-Madeleine Fourcade).

Marie Madeleine Fourcade At His Desk Of U.N.R (A64464142) In 1959. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Life In The Resistance

When Marie-Madeleine was having tea at her sister Yvonne’s apartment in Paris, she met Major Georges Loustaunau-Lacau. who was recruiting people who disagreed with France’s passivity against German forces and fascism. Loustaunau-Lacau wanted to start a private organization to collect information on Germany, so he recruited Foucade so she could help with recruitment. The network “Alliance” eventually partnered up with the English secret service M16, the Intelligence Service. When Loustaunau-Lacau, code name Navarre, was arrested in 1941, Foucade was chosen to lead and continue the movement. Marie-Madeleine decided to choose the code name Herrison, meaning hedgehog in French, because even though the animal is small, any predator would think twice before messing with them. From 1941-1945, Fourcade was the leader of the largest, longest-lived spy network in France (Tenorio et al. Forgotten female spymaster led French resistance’s largest intelligence ring). 

As the leader of the spy network, Fourcade also recruited more men and women as radio operators, pilots, couriers, and spies. In their missions, they attempted to gather as much information as possible about the movements, forices, plans, weapons, equipment, and other information about German forces (Provence Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, au bout de la résistance (2/2) – memoires de guerre). Her alliance was able to collect information on the movements and locations of German U-boats, on supply shipments, on which of the bridges into Paris were mined and other key information they fed to the British. Most spies were captured by the Nazis, but only some were able to escape. Fourcade was captured twice, but managed to escape both times. Once, she had to endure an 8-hour trip smuggled in a Vichy mailbag, so that she could cross the French-Spanish border. At the time, she was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, so she was very thin. When she was caught one time, she stripped naked and was able to squeeze through the cell bars with her clothes in her mouth. She jumped down and crawled across the street on hands and knees to her escape. (Kelly Review | the young mother who took on the Nazis as head of France’s biggest Spy Network)

Fourcade was an inspiration to her Alliance and sparked the obedience and passion from her male members, who often had military background, and from the women members, who made up about 20 % of the Alliance Among their many achievements were sending the British information about the whereabouts of German submarines, creating a 55 foot-long map of Normandy Beaches and German forts, tricking German officials into revealing plans for the V-1 and V-2 rockets, and other important information (Tenorio et al. Forgotten female spymaster led French resistance’s largest intelligence ring).

Women were not suspected of being spies, so Marie-Madeleine Foucade often flew under the radar. M16, the British key partner, didn’t know that the Herisson was actually a Herissone. She constantly dyed her hair and used molar implants or different disguises to complete her missions. Even her pregnancy in 1943, did not stop her.  M16 was a key partner as they fully funded most missions and provided important tools and requirements, so Foucade did not want to reveal her gender, in fear of M16 pulling out their support (Kelly Review | the young mother who took on the Nazis as head of France’s biggest Spy Network). For a while, she was able to keep her identity safe. On one account, the Gestapo knocked down her door to look for French Resistance spies that could be in hiding. Since they never expected a woman to hold such an important role as that of a spy, they just pushed her aside and didn’t think twice about her, even though she was actually the ringleader (Fawcett Madame Fourcade was one of World War II’s most daring female spies). Eventually, she revealed her identity to M16. Even though they took hours to respond to her message, they inevitably decided she was much too important to the operation, so they just looked over the fact that she was a woman.

Title Page of Marie-Madeleiene Fourcade’s memoir, Noah’s Ark

Reflection and Connection

When I first chose this woman for my project, I have to admit I just chose a random name on a list, but I quickly found out how much of an incredible and inspiring woman Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was. I wish I could say that I, too, was a spy ringleader who defied all stereotypes and rules. Although that was not the case, I still related a lot to her character. In her early life, she worked in the radio industry, got a pilot license, and then ended up working as the ringleader of a spy network. Even through her difficult professional career, she was able to have a family. She was direct proof against the misconception that you have to choose between having a family and a professional career. Marie-Madeleine Foucade is a historical name that has not received the rightful credit. Even though her story is not openly shared in history books and lesson, her story is never forgotten. Her bravery and intelligence have made her an important historic character, because through her network of spies, they were able to help in the World War II.

Like Marie-Madeleine, I often find myself questioning the decisions of those around me when they don’t speak up when they think something is wrong. Marie-Madeleine Foucade was a brave woman who was not afraid to question France’s passivity against the German occupation of France. She was willing to risk her comfortable and safe life for a life of risk and danger to fight for human rights. Marie-Madeleine was a wealthy woman who was not directly in danger over the war’s efforts, yet she decided to help in whatever ways she could. She was willing to endure torture, capture, and risked her life to help the cause. Not even the pregnancy of her third child could slow her down. Even though she had no right to vote and had to face sexism, she saw a cause that was worth fighting. Marie-Madeleine Foucade inspires me, like she inspired so many, to always fight for what you believe in. If it’s worth fighting for, then it’s worth the risk.

Works Cited

“France during World War II: Occupation and Resistance.” Smithsonian Associates, https://smithsonianassociates.org/ticketing/tickets/france-during-world-war-ii-occupation-and-resistance. 

Kelly, Mary Louise. “Review | the Young Mother Who Took on the Nazis as Head of France’s Biggest Spy Network.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 Apr. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/the-young-mother-who-took-on-the-nazis-as-head-of-frances-biggest-spy-network/2019/04/05/7bf282ee-4a5e-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html. 

“Marie-Madeleine Fourcade.” Military Wiki, https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Marie-Madeleine_Fourcade. 

Provence, La. “Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, Au Bout De La Résistance (2/2) – Memoires De Guerre.” Mémoires De Guerre, Mémoires De Guerre, 6 Nov. 2020, https://www.memoiresdeguerre.com/article-marie-madeleine-fourcade-au-bout-de-la-resistance-2-2-112626652.html. 

Provence, La. “Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, Au Bout De La Résistance (2/2) – Memoires De Guerre.” Mémoires De Guerre, Mémoires De Guerre, 6 Nov. 2020, https://www.memoiresdeguerre.com/article-marie-madeleine-fourcade-au-bout-de-la-resistance-2-2-112626652.html. 

“Resistance Is a State of Mind: On Lynne Olson’s ‘Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network against Hitler.’” Los Angeles Review of Books, 6 May 2019, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/resistance-is-a-state-of-mind-on-lynne-olsons-madame-fourcades-secret-war-the-daring-young-woman-who-led-frances-largest-spy-network-against-hitler/. 

Tenorio, Rich, et al. “Forgotten Female Spymaster Led French Resistance’s Largest Intelligence Ring.” The Times of Israel, 4 Oct. 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/forgotten-female-spymaster-led-french-resistances-largest-intelligence-ring/.

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