Thursday, September 24, 2009

English Heroes #2

An occasional series recording English men and women who achieved great things for themselves and reflected well on the country of their birth.

Source the BBC, who again fall into the trap of calling an Englishwoman British.

The only woman in the French Foreign Legion

An English tennis-playing socialite became the only woman in the French Foreign Legion, leading a daring, wartime, desert escape. She would have been 100 this week and her story remains inspirational, writes biographer and friend Wendy Holden.

When I first met Susan Travers in a Paris nursing home in 1999, she was a papery-skinned 90-year-old who spoke with a cut-glass English accent. Unable to walk, she insisted that before we began I wheel her to a local restaurant for lunch.

There can have been few in the suburban restaurant who gave this frail old lady a second glance as she ate her omelette and drank a glass of champagne. Unless, that is, they noticed the small coloured ribbons pinned to the lapel of her tweed suit.

One defined her as a recipient of the Legion d'Honneur, a French military honour established by Napoleon, others were for the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. But the last red and blue ribbon was unique - it identified Travers as the only woman in the French Foreign Legion.

Born in southern England as the daughter of a Royal Navy admiral, but raised as a young tennis-playing socialite in the south of France, Travers was among thousands of women who joined the French Red Cross at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Trained as a nurse, she spurned that as being "far too messy" for the more exciting role of ambulance driver, joining the French expeditionary force to Finland to help in the Winter War against the Russians.

An incredible story of an incredible woman. Read the full story and see that courage cannot be boxed into gender or nationality. Susan Travers, your country salutes you.

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