A wartime spy described as Winston Churchill’s favourite has finally been remembered with a blue plaque.
Christine Granville, who was born Krystyna Skarbek in Warsaw, joined British intelligence in 1939 and is said to have inspired Ian Fleming’s spy character Vesper Lynd.
She struggled after the war and was given cheap lodgings at a London hotel run by the Polish Relief Society.
Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, (pictured) was one of the most effective special agents to serve Britain during the Second World War
It was her home until she was murdered by a stalker in 1952, aged 44.
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’s daring exploits and impressive career during wartime have been widely accepted as Bond author Fleming’s inspiration for double-agent Lynd in Casino Royale.
Author Clare Mulley, who penned Granville’s biography The Spy Who Loved, said teh real-life spy was more impressive.
She said: ‘I have to say Christine is much more than a Bond girl.
‘She’s more Bond. And she’s more than that because she is real.
Danger: Eva Green as Vesper Lynd (the character inspired by Christine Granville) and Daniel Craig as 007
‘All too often, women in the resistance tend to get remembered for their beauty or their courage or their final sacrifice. We are less good at celebrating the achievements of the women.
‘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.
She later wrote: ‘I want to keep the name Granville that I have made for myself, and of which I am rather proud.’
The former Shelbourne Hotel (now 1 Lexham Gardens in Kensington, pictured above) run by the Polish Relief Society was Christine Granville’s home from 1949 until she was murdered by a stalker in 1952
Christine Granville’s identification card. She was born Krystyna Skarbek in Poland but became an English agent after the breakout of the Second World War
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.
Granville was Britain’s longest-serving female special agent during the Second World War.
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.
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
‘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’.
The real-life Vesper Lynd who made James Bond look tame: Christine Granville wore a seven-inch knife on her thigh, preferred hand-grenades to guns and could seduce with just a look. As she’s honoured at last, RICHARD KAY recounts her thrilling story
By RICHARD KAY EDITOR AT LARGE FOR THE DAILY MAIL
Christine Granville pictured in 1952
On a warm June evening in 1952, Christine Granville was returning to a run-down West London hotel after dinner with friends when a man burst into the lobby behind her.
It was Dennis Muldowney, an obsessed former lover, demanding the return of billets-doux.
Christine, 44, whose glamour and beauty seemed oddly out of place at such an obscure address, was contemptuous. She scoffed at the merchant seaman whom she called a ‘lame dog’ and said she had destroyed all of his love letters, burning every last one of them.
Suddenly, he produced a knife and thrust it deep into her chest in a single powerful movement. Christine was dead from shock and haemorrhage within seconds.
He made no attempt to escape, staying by her corpse until the police arrived, and asked to be executed. Three months later, he got his wish when he was hanged for murder at Pentonville prison. His last wretched words were: ‘To kill is the final possession.’
Such a crime of passion might have gone unreported but for the real identity of the striking, dark-haired woman whose life was ended so brutally.
During the war she had served as a secret agent, and Special Branch even investigated whether her death could have been the work of vengeful ex-Nazis or communists, but found no evidence.
And tomorrow, nearly 70 years later, a blue plaque will be unveiled at the now smart hotel in Kensington, to commemorate the remarkable life of the woman born Krystyna Skarbek in Warsaw, Poland, whose daring exploits saw her become not just Winston Churchill’s favourite spy, but the inspiration for Vesper Lynd, James Bond’s lover in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale.
In truth she was more Bond than Bond Girl. She carried a razor-sharp, seven-inch commando knife in a leather sheath strapped to her thigh and was also expert in the use of hand-grenades, which she far preferred to guns
In truth she was more Bond than Bond Girl. She carried a razor-sharp, seven-inch commando knife in a leather sheath strapped to her thigh and was also expert in the use of hand-grenades, which she far preferred to guns.
‘With a pistol you can defend yourself against, at most, one person. With a hand-grenade, against five, perhaps ten,’ she once explained.
She also had a cyanide capsule sewn into the hems of her skirts, a money belt stuffed with gold sovereigns, and a map printed on silk rather than paper so it wouldn’t rustle if she was searched.
But her most devastating weapon was an ability to charm men, compared by one admirer to ‘a searchlight which could blind anyone in its beam’.
It certainly came in useful the day she found herself in a railway carriage in occupied Poland, sitting opposite a Gestapo officer when troops came on board searching passengers and their belongings.
She had a parcel which she told the uniformed Gestapo man contained black-market tea. Fixing him with her dark expressive eyes she asked if he would hold the package until the danger had passed.
Christine had a cyanide capsule sewn into the hems of her skirts, a money belt stuffed with gold sovereigns, and a map printed on silk rather than paper so it wouldn’t rustle if she was searched
The parcel contained something far more incriminating than tea — British propaganda leaflets designed to bolster Polish resistance and their discovery would have seen her executed as a spy.
But like many men before and after him, the unwitting Nazi found Christine impossible to resist. A few hours later, they parted company at Warsaw station, the ‘tea’ safely back in the hands of the woman who had an almost pathological need for excitement.
Born in 1908 the daughter of a dissolute Polish aristocrat, Skarbek could ride, shoot and speak many languages, and learnt smuggling routes ‘for kicks’.
She was expelled from her convent at 14 for setting light to a priest’s cassock as he took mass. Later, bewitching men with what one admirer described as ‘her crackling vitality’, she spent much time as a young woman in the fashionable ski resort of Zakopane.
It was there in 1931 that the 23-year-old Krystyna was crowned ‘Miss Ski’ in a regional beauty contest. Her looks also saw her runner-up to Miss Poland.
But she was no empty-headed pin-up. Her idea of fun was skiing into Czechoslovakia and dodging the border patrols to smuggle cigarettes back to Zakopane.
She was already on her second husband, a Polish count, when war broke out in 1939, and she escaped to Britain, where she turned up at MI6’s supposedly secret headquarters and offered herself as its first female spy.
The agency was sceptical because she was a foreign, half-Jewish woman, and they thought her too flamboyant to work undercover. The British ambassador in Hungary cabled his anxiety that she had a ‘pathological love of danger’, but she was hired nonetheless and sent back to her native Poland to distribute propaganda and gather intelligence.
Christine inspired the character of Vesper Lynd in Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond
When Christine — the name she had adopted in England — arrived in Poland in February 1940, not only was there a war on but it was the worst winter in living memory, with temperatures reaching minus 30 in the mountains. Birds froze to the branches on which they slept.
None of this discouraged Christine, who on a later expedition brought back on microfilm information that Germany had plans to invade the Soviet Union.
It was when she was arrested by the Gestapo in Budapest that she pulled off one of her greatest stunts. During interrogation, she bit her tongue so hard it bled, and began coughing to give the impression she was bringing up blood.
Terrified that she might have TB, her captors released both her and her then lover Andrzej Kowerski, a one-legged Polish infantry hero, who was also deemed to be contagious.
Unable to continue operating in Budapest, Christine escaped to Romania in the boot of a car.
Christine had one other outstanding trick — the ability to turn a man’s head, which may explain why Fleming modelled the darkly attractive Vesper (played by Eva Green in the 2006 Bond film) on the dashing secret agent
From there she made her way to Cairo, doing office work while Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) considered whether she was a double agent (she wasn’t) following her apparently ‘easy’ escape. She was reactivated and sent to France in July 1944 — shortly after D-Day — parachuting in with a mission to convince Poles working for the Germans in the Alps to take up arms against them.
It involved climbing 1,500ft to an alpine garrison manned by Polish Nazis, whom she exhorted to defect via a loud-hailer. They did, rupturing German plans to attack Allied forces.
And it was in France that she carried out her most breathtaking of operations when she marched into the prison where several high-ranking French Resistance leaders were about to be executed.
With astonishing chutzpah, she persuaded the local Gestapo that she was the goddaughter of the British commander Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and that a terrible fate would befall them after the Allied victory if the men were not released. This ruse, together with a substantial bribe, worked and the men were freed.
Eva Green played the Bond girl Vesper Lynd (pictured) in the 2006 film Casino Royale
As we have seen, Christine had one other outstanding trick — the ability to turn a man’s head, which may explain why Fleming modelled the darkly attractive Vesper (played by Eva Green in the 2006 Bond film) on the dashing secret agent.
Yet even though her bravery had been marked with the George Medal, an OBE and the Croix de Guerre, she was treated shabbily by her former employers at SOE after the war and was dismissed with just a month’s pay.
She eked out a living with a number of ill-paid jobs: waitress, stewardess in third-class cabins on passenger liners and hat-check girl at Harrods.
For all her war-time heroics, hers was not a glorious end. But she was buried in Kensal Green cemetery in North-West London under a layer of Polish soil smuggled out of the then communist country. And tomorrow her outstanding life will be finally recognised in her adopted country.