A Cool and Lonely Courage

Written by Susan Ottaway
Review by M.K. Tod

Susan Ottaway tells the incredible and true story of WWII British special agents, Eileen (Didi) and Jacqueline Nearne. Born in England but raised mainly in France, Jacqueline and Didi were horrified when France was invaded and Germany seemed headed to victory. With their parents’ blessing, they made their way to England where Jacqueline volunteered for the SOE. Sent to France as a courier for the Resistance, Jacqueline was unaware that her sister Didi was also training to be an agent and at age 21, returned to France as a wireless operator with the Resistance.

While Jacqueline narrowly avoided arrest, Didi was captured by the Gestapo, tortured and sent to various concentration camps where she witnessed and suffered many horrors. In 1945, Didi eventually escaped and found her way to the advancing American army.

Ottaway’s story weaves together Nearne family crises, day-to-day French Resistance activities, SOE training programs and bureaucratic manipulations. Readers come to know Jacqueline and Didi as well as many of the other agents they worked with and those in positions of authority. Although I wished for more detail on the undercover work of each heroine and less backstory, the result is a clear picture of the cool and lonely courage involved in being a WWII secret agent operating a hair’s breadth away from the enemy and the amazing strength of character required to survive capture.