"Pearl Cornioley spent a year in occupied France as a secret agent of Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE). Dropped in by parachute in 1943, she worked as a courier until, after D-Day, it fell to her to organise 1,500 Resistance fighters in operations against the Germans.
"Born Cécile Pearl Witherington in Paris in 1914, she was the eldest daughter of English parents who had settled in France two years before. Her childhood was hard; her father, an alcoholic of expensive tastes and unstable means, died in 1930. Thereafter she had to work to support her mother and three sisters.
"In May 1940, when Germany invaded France, Witherington was employed at the British Embassy as a typist to the air attaché. France soon fell and the diplomats departed. She and her mother and sisters stayed on. In December, as internment threatened, they judged it wise to leave and set out to escape to England. After three months in Marseilles and three more in Lisbon, they finally reached the UK via Gibraltar, arriving on Bastille Day 1941. That they made it at all owed much to Witherington's energy, composure and drive. The same qualities then saw her force her way into the SOE."