Code Name Pauline

Title:                      Code Name Pauline

Author:                 Pearl Witherington Cornioley

Cornioley, Pearl Witherington (2013). Code name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press

LCCN:    2013008734

D802.F8 C626 2013


  • “Pearl Witherington Cornioley, one of the most celebrated female World War II resistance fighters, shares her remarkable story in this firsthand account of her experience as a special agent for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Told through a series of reminiscences–from a difficult childhood spent in the shadow of World War I and her family’s harrowing escape from France as the Germans approached in 1940 to her recruitment and training as a special agent and the logistics of parachuting into a remote rural area of occupied France and hiding in a wheat field from enemy fire–each chapter also includes helpful opening remarks to provide context and background on the SOE and the French Resistance. With an annotated list of key figures, an appendix of original unedited interview extracts–including Pearl’s fiance; Henri’s story–and fascinating photographs and documents from Pearl’s personal collection, this memoir will captivate World War II buffs of any age”– Provided by publisher.
  • “The as yet unpublished memoirs for young adults of the only female SOE agent to lead a French Resistance network during World War II”– Provided by publisher.


Date Posted:      September 30, 2015

Compiled and Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake.[1]

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was the British paramilitary organization formed to support resistance movements in Nazi- and Japanese-occupied countries during WWII. “F” section was responsible for France, to which some 400 officers had been dispatched. Of the 39 women sent, 13 didn’t come back. Pearl Witherington was one who did. Recommended for the Military Cross, she was declared ineligible, as it was for men only. When awarded a civilian Member of the Order of the British Empire, she returned it with the comment that “she had done nothing civil.”[2] Code Name Pauline is her story as originally told to French historian Hervé Larroque in 1984, when she was 70 years old .

Witherington was born in Paris} the daughter of British parents. Her father was a ne’er-do-well traveling salesman who neglected his family. As a young adult, Witherington found a job with the air attaché in the British embassy to help support her mother and three sisters. When WWII started, the family escaped to England via Portugal. In London, she found work as a secretary with the Air Ministry. Not content to serve out the war typing memos, she sought some way to return to France and help the resistance. The SOE was the answer.

She describes her training and her parachute drop into occupied France, where she was to serve as a courier for the STATIONER circuit. When the circuit commander was arrested by the Gestapo, STATIONER was disbanded, and Witherington was given command of the new WRESTLER circuit, which would eventually grow to some 2,900 strong. After D-Day, her circuit went into action destroying communications lines and otherwise impeding the German advance. She was working with Jedburgh team JULIAN, when it brought a German panzer division to a near standstill.

After the war, Witherington returned to London, married her pre-war sweetheart and resistance comrade, Henri Cornioley, and eventually settled in France She lived to 93 years of age.

She Landed by Moonlight[3] covers the same general story, but in much greater detail. The book’s subtitle refers to a novel by Sebastian Faulks that was based in part on Witherington’s resistance experiences.[4]

Author Carole Seymour-Jones includes much more about Witherington’s personal life and bureaucratic battles within the SOE and with de Gaulle’s resistance elements. She also expands on the logistical and organizational problems Witherington encountered in the field, and the reluctance—French and English—to accept women in command roles. In this connection, Seymour-Jones clarifies the issues surrounding Witherington’s initial refusal to accept a civilian award in lieu of the Military Cross’ and the successful battle she waged to have the regulations changed. (pp. 352-56) Seymour-Jones also adds a great deal about Witherington’s operational life in the resistance, including several close calls with the Gestapo and problems dealing with the French communists. Finally, there is more context on the conduct of the war as it affected the resistance.

She Landed by Moonlight provides the documentation lacking in Code Name Pauline and leaves no doubt as to the quality and uniqueness of Pearl Witherington’s wartime service.

[1] Hayden Peake, “Intelligence Officer Bookshelf,” The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Stuidies (21, 2, Spring/Summer 2015, pp. 130-131)Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of his reviews cited have appeared in recent unclassified editions of ClA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found online at

[2] Foot, M.R.D. (1966). SOE In France: An Account of The Work of British Special Operations Executive in France 1940-1944. London:H.M. Stationery Off, p. 48

[3] Seymour-Jones, Carole (2013). She Landed by Moonlight: The Story of Secret Agent Pearl Witherington; ‘The Real Charlotte Gray.’ London: Hodder & Stoughton

[4] Faulks, Sebastian (1998). Charlotte Gray. London : Hutchinson [LCCN: 99461705]

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One Response to Code Name Pauline

  1. Pingback: She Landed by Moonlight | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

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