Blue Plaque honour for female special agent dubbed Churchill’s favourite spy

Christine Granville
Christine Granville
15:00pm, Wed 16 Sep 2020
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Britain’s first female special agent, who was called Churchill’s favourite spy, has been remembered with a Blue Plaque.

Christine Granville faced what she described as “the horrors of peace” after her outstanding wartime career.

Her successful spy missions included smuggling microfilm across Europe to prove Hitler’s plans to invade the Soviet Union, skiing over the Polish border in temperatures of -30°C and rescuing French Resistance agents from the Gestapo.

Granville, who was born Krystyna Skarbek in Warsaw and joined British Intelligence after Germany invaded Poland, is said to have inspired Ian Fleming’s spy character Vesper Lynd, from his Bond novel Casino Royale.

Krystyna Skarbek, who became Christine Granville

Author Clare Mulley, who penned Granville’s biography The Spy Who Loved, said: “All too often women in the Resistance are remembered for their beauty and courage, while their achievements are overlooked.

“Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, was one of the most effective special agents to serve Britain during the Second World War, male or female.

“Her achievements, which included securing the defection of an entire German garrison in a strategic pass in the Alps, and saving the lives of many of her male colleagues, led Churchill to call her his favourite spy, and Britain to honour her with the George Medal and OBE.”

The spy, who used several different aliases, was issued with a British passport in the name of Christine Granville early in the conflict.

The Blue Plaque

She later wrote: “I want to keep the name Granville that I have made for myself, and of which I am rather proud.”

Granville struggled after the war, returning to London in early 1949 and drifting through a string of short-lived menial jobs before becoming a stewardess on cruise ships.

She was provided with cheap accommodation at The Shelbourne Hotel – run by the Polish Relief Society – which was her home from 1949 until she was murdered by a stalker in 1952.

The English Heritage Blue Plaque has been unveiled at the former Shelbourne Hotel (now 1 Lexham Gardens), in Kensington, and is inscribed with both her original name and the one she adopted.

Granville was Britain’s longest-serving female special agent during the Second World War.

Christine Granville

Author Michael Morpurgo’s uncle, a British agent, was one of many people she saved.

The writer said: “Her extraordinary courage was forged by a love of freedom, a hatred of the invader and a love of her beloved Poland.

“She fought for the Resistance in Poland and France against a cruel and ruthless enemy with fierce determination and saved countless lives including that of my uncle, also in the SOE (Special Operations Executive), Francis Cammaerts.

“Christine Granville helped preserve our freedom and for that we should be ever grateful to her.”

Arkady Rzegocki, the Polish Ambassador to London, said: “Skarbek impressed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill so much he dubbed her his favourite spy…  I am proud and pleased that English Heritage is honouring Krystyna Skarbek with a Blue Plaque to pay tribute to the memory of one of the most remarkable Second World War secret agents.”

Only 14% of more than 950 Blue Plaques in London celebrate women.

The charity said that “if we are to continue to see a significant increase in the number of blue plaques for women, we need more female suggestions”.

Sign up to our newsletter