The Spy Who Loved

Title:                      The Spy Who Loved

Author:                  Clare Mulley

Mulley, Clare (2012). The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets And Lives of Christine Granville, Britain’s First Female Special Agent of the Second World War. London : Macmillan

LCCN:    2012551760

D810.S8 G727 2012


  • Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, was the first woman to work for the British as a secret agent during the Second World War, a prototype for the women agents of the SOE, which had yet to be formed. She was one of the most daring female secret agents and this is her story.


Date Posted:      November 19, 2015

Reviewed by Hayden Peake[1]

Krystyna Skarbek, the daughter of Count Jerzy and Countess Stefania Skarbek, was born in Warsaw (part of Russia at the time), on 1 May 1908. Her British death certificate records the passing in 1952 of one Christine Granville, age 37, a “former wife.” The Spy Who Loved is the story of why she changed her name, cut 7 years off of her age, and became a British subject, (p. 2) only to be stabbed to death by a would-be lover in a cheap London hotel.

British author Clare Mulley is not the first to write about Granville. Madeleine Masson and one of her former resistance colleagues penned a 1975 biography that was considered hagiographic, as was a similar treatment by another of Masson’s wartime colleagues that was never published.[2] Granville is also mentioned in many accounts of wartime resistance operations. All agree about her courage—“steady nerve, feminine cunning and sheer brass.”[3] But the details of her life vary, in many cases thanks to her own embellishments, which obscured her promiscuity and the reality of her accomplishments. The Spy Who Loved sets the record straight.

Mulley follows Christine from her society-loving days in prewar Warsaw (where she was crowned “Miss Ski” in a Polish beauty contest), through two marriages, (p. 23) to her travels with her second husband in Europe and South Africa. In Cape Town when Poland was invaded in 1939, they boarded a ship bound for Southampton, England. From then on, the story focuses on Christine’s wartime exploits as a British agent, her many affairs, the awards she received, and her attempts to adjust to civilian life after the war.

After the fall of Poland, Christine decided that she wanted to help her native country by returning clandestinely with documents that would show the resistance movement developing in Poland and that Britain had not forgotten them. The story of how she convinced the Secret Intelligence Service to let her join Section D, its prewar covert action arm, and conduct several extremely difficult missions into Poland from Hungary is exciting reading.

But Christine’s adventures didn’t end there. When the Germans were about to occupy Hungary in 1944, she induced, if not seduced, the British ambassador in Budapest to issue her a British passport with the name Christine Granville—her name from then on—and escaped to Cairo via Bulgaria and Turkey. It was in Cairo that she joined the SOE and was made a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry), a distinction that gave her the official status used by female SOE agents. While she waited for an assignment, the war in North Africa ended, and after an extended period of inactivity, Christine decided she could be of service to the resistance in occupied France.

How Christine managed to gain approval, be promoted to honorary captain in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), and be dropped by parachute into France is an extraordinary adventure in itself. Her operations in France, using her fluency in French and German, were the highlight of her career. At one point, she entered the prison camp where the leader of her resistance group was awaiting execution, contacted the Gestapo, and persuaded the officer in charge to release the leader and surrender to the resistance. When the Germans were driven from France, she arranged to be sent back to Poland to join the resistance there, but the war ended before she could undertake that mission.

Christine Granville thrived on excitement and danger and never adapted to a postwar life in which women were expected to return to homemaking, secretarial, or administrative avocations. Mulley explains how Christine tried to do so while keeping in touch with various lovers from her days in the resistance. Her final job as a· stewardess on a cruise ship led to her murder.

The Spy Who Loved is very well documented and a pleasure to read.

[1] Peake, Hayden B. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (20, 1, Spring/Summer 2013, pp. 121-122). 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 these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at

[2] Masson, Madeleine (1975). Christine, A Search for Christine Granville, G.M., O.B.E., Croix de Guerre. London: Hamilton [LCCN: 76355066]

[3] 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. 363

This entry was posted in British Intelligence and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s