IT was 80 years ago that Violette Szabo, a British-French Special Operations Executive was arrested by German officers, tortured and imprisoned before being executed six months later.

HEROINE: Violette Szabo (Submitted)

But the memory of the dual-national spy is being kept alive in Wormelow, at the home where Violette used to spend much of her childhood and during her visits back to England between missions.

The property is now owned by her aunt, Rosemary Rigby, who founded a museum in Violette’s honour, which was opened in 2000 by Dame Virginia McKenna, the actress who portrayed Violet in the 1958 film Carve Her Name with Pride.

Violette Szabo was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the first woman to receive the award, and the Croix du Guerre in France. The medal is now on public display at London's Imperial War Museum.

But last weekend, Violette’s daughter Tania Szabo presented Ms Rigby with a replica of the George Cross during an event celebrating the life of British-French spy.

Tania explained that Rosemary had done so much in keeping her mother’s memory alive and everybody was here today because of Violette.

She said: “Rosemary and Violette have together created a picnic every year since the year 2000. This is pretty good going, despite there being some dangerous corners in the world. We’ve been lucky in this country so far, and we must be always vigilant.

“I would like to present to Rosemary with a replica of the George Cross that Violette was presented with. It comes from the heart of my mother and myself and I am sure all of you would agree with me that she deserves it.

“The medal not only signifies bravery in war, but in bravery and endurance in peace time. Rosemary has more than surpassed this.”

Ms Rigby said: “Events like this must mean so much to Violette when she looks down on us. She was a wonderful person, and I am glad that we are doing what we can to remember her.”


Patrick Wrixon, deputy Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire said: “Today marks the 24th anniversary of the opening of the Violette Szabo Museum. It stands as a testament to the remarkable courage and sacrifice of the heroine whose legacy we are committed to preserving and celebrating.


“Violette was a young woman of extraordinary bravery, who served as an agent of the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War.

“Her missions in occupied France were perilous and critical to the Allied efforts, showcasing her exceptional spirit and determination.

“Despite the unimaginable dangers, Violette’s courage never wavered, ultimately leading to her capture and tragic execution at the age of just 23. Her story is of selflessness and heroism inspiring generations to come.

“The vision for this museum was conceived by Violette’s aunt, Ms Rigby, who recognised the importance of keeping her memory alive.

“Rosemary’s tireless efforts and unwavering dedication were instrumental in establishing this museum, ensuring that her bravery and the sacrifices she made are never forgotten.

“Ms Rigby’s work did not stop at the museum’s inception, her ongoing commitment has nurtured and grown this institution into what it is today.

“We must reflect on the incredible journey that brought us here. The museum is not just a repository of artifacts, but a living tribute to Violette’s life and legacy. It serves as a source of education and inspiration, reminding us all of the values of courage, resilience and sacrifice.

“Through the exhibits, personal items and stories shared within these walls, visitors gain a profound understanding of the impact one individual can make in the face of adversity.

“Over the years the museum has been supported by volunteers, historians and those who have donated to the cause. This support ensures Violette’s legacy continues.”

The war-time memories continued when 101-year-old Betty Webb spoke about her time working at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. She explained that she was translated and paraphrasing Japanese messages and between 1941 and 1945 but didn’t do Morse code.


“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Bletchley Park and I now realise that I was part of fantastic team. I didn’t realise the significance of what we did until we started having reunions and then we understood how important our work was.

“Due to the Official Secrets Act, I wasn’t able to reveal what I did for 75 years, so my parents never did know what I did during the war.

“After the war I was posted to America and flew to Ireland in Sunderland Flying boat before heading to the States to work at the Pentagon, doing much the same job as I had done at Bletchley. It didn’t feel that this was a great privilege at the time, however I did enjoy the food in America, because they were not subjected to rations.”

Betty was asked if she had met Leo Marks or Alan Turing at Bletchley, but said she hadn’t, but quipped that she had seen Mr Turing in disguise as he used arrive at work on his bicycle wearing his gas mask.

The Mayor of Hereford, Kevin Tillett said: “These anniversaries taking place this year and next will be the last opportunity for us to share the memories with the fee remaining servicemen and women who served in the last war.

“After that it will be up to us who are children, grandchildren or even great-grandchildren to keep the flame alive. It will be up to us to share their memories, stories and amazing feats of adventure. I still wear my father’s regimental tie and his two brothers to keep their memory alive.

“This year is Violette’s 80th anniversary of being captured and next year will tragically mark her execution. Rosemary’s work in founding the museum keeps her acts of bravery alive. If it wasn’t for Ms Rigby’s efforts, we might not know about Violette and her local connection.”

The mayor of Ross-on-Wye, Cllr Bev Pope, said she was amazed at the ‘James Bond’ styled equipment that Violette was issued with as part of the Special Operations Executive.

JAMES BOND: Tony Salter shows some of the under cover equipment used by the Special Operations Executive personnel to the mayor of Ross-on-Wye, Cllr Bev Pope. (Tindle)

“The presentation of the George Cross replica was incredibly moving as were some of the stories that were told during the afternoon picnic,” she said.

The museum houses many amazing photographs that chart Violette's childhood through to her marriage with many happy family photographs belying what was to come. The museum opens every Wednesday in April through to September.

WRAF: Association representatives of the airwomen who served with the RAF, WAAF and RAF(W) at Wormelow. (Tindle)

Dame Virginia McKenna’s message

MESSAGE: Dame Virgina McKenna (Submitted)

Dame Virginia McKenna, who portrayed Violette in the film, Carve Her Name With Pride, sent a message to those attending the celebration of her life and apologised for not being at the museum in person.

She said: “However, I am with you in spirit. Violette’s Day, loyally conceived and arranged by Ms Rigby for so many years, is a tribute like no other. And that Violette’s daughter Tania is present, makes it even more moving.

“We live in uncertain and troubled times, but this special day reassures us that friendships, loyalty and hope are alive and strong.

“Violette inspires all ages, young and old and this will never fade.”

IMMORTALISED: A poster for the 1958 film with Virginia McKenna playing Violette. (Submitted)