Violette Szabo was an agent of SOE (Special Operations Executive) and was sent into occupied France twice. The first time she returned safely but the second time she was captured and ultimately shot. Violette was the first woman to be awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian award for bravery, usually regarded as the equivalent to the Victoria Cross. She was also awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French.
Mrs Szabo was born Violette Bushell to an English father and French mother, and brought up in London. At the outbreak of the war, she joined the Land Army, then met and married an officer of the French Foreign Legion, Etienne Szabo, who was killed in action at El Alamein. He never lived to see the baby daughter, Tania, who was born in his absence.
A few months after her husband died, while her bitterness towards the Germans was still raw, she was approached by the Special Operations Executive, who wanted to recruit bilingual secret agents for deployment in occupied Europe. She volunteered without hesitation.
There followed a series of hair-raising missions to France, liaising with the local Resistance. Her final mission, in June 1944, sealed her fate. While driving one of the leaders of the Maquis to a secret rendezvous, she was stopped by a 400-strong unit of the elite Waffen SS. The pair fled across the fields but, although the Maquis chief escaped thanks to covering fire from his companion, Violette herself was captured, interrogated and tortured. After a spell in a Paris prison, she was deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany and, in February 1945, executed by firing squad. She was just 23.
The Museum is at the rear of Cartref, the small Herefordshire cottage where she stayed on her visits to Herefordshire from her teens onward. During the war, she returned to Cartref nursing bandaged limbs after an accident during parachute training. But nobody knew about her secret missions to France.
The official opening of the Violette Szabo Museum took place on Saturday 24th June 2000, when over 1,000 people attended.