The Special Operations Executive, headquartered in London, was formed in the Second World War to secretly recruit men and women who would perform acts of sabotage in countries occupied by Germany. The lengths that these brave men and women went through is truly remarkable and I’ve read a fair few biographies of some of the women recruited – I’d recommend A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell.
The woman depicted here is Violette Szabo, an SOE agent who, on her second mission in occupied France was captured by the Germans, interrogated, tortured and sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp where she would eventually be executed. She was just 23 years old when she died, leaving behind a young daughter, her husband having been killed in the war some years previously.
Szabo was the second woman to ever be awarded the George Cross (the first was another SOE operative, Odette Hallowes, who survived the war). But the memorial is not just to commemorate members of the SOE but also those the SOE helped such as the members of the Maquis (the French Resistance) and the Norwegian resistance commandos who were sponsored by the SOE and who, by sabotaging the Norsk hydro plant in Telemark ensured that the Nazi’s failed to develop the atomic bomb.
You can find the memorial on the Albert Embankment of the Thames, not far from the Garden Museum and Lambeth Bridge.