Local World War 2 heroine, Odette Hallowes is one of three remarkable women whose portraits may be featured on a new Bank of England £50 note.
A petition to have the three women’s images on the note has been raised by Zehra Zaidi, a civil and political activist who fought the 2015 election as the Conservative candidate for Makerfield, a Greater Manchester constituency.
The three women are Odette Hallowes, Violette Szabó and Noor Inayat Khan, all of whom were awarded the George Cross for their service to Britain as members of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during WW2.
Odette Hallowes lived in a cottage close to the Whiteball Tunnel just outside Wellington. During the war Odette took part in Special Operation Executive and spied for the British in France before being captured and tortured. During her time as a prisoner of the Gestapo, she said that it was the memory of the view from her cottage above the tunnel that kept her going. She returned to the area after the war in order to recuperate from SS torture and was awarded the George Cross.
Odette’s story became part of the community project ‘The Wondrous Tales of the Whiteball Tunnel’ which was performed in St John’s Church, Wellington in November 2014. Odette’s Tearoom in the town was named in her honour following its co-owner Victoria Osborne’s involvement in the project. Zehra Zaidi made contact with Victoria to let her know about the petition.
Violette Szabó and Noor Inayat Khan were awarded the George Cross posthumously for their wartime service to Britain as members of the SOE. Both died as prisoners of the Germans: Noor was executed in Dachau concentration camp in 1944 aged 29 and Violette was shot by the Germans in Ravenbrück in January 1945. She was 23. Their extraordinary stories are told in the petition. Violette’s was made into the film ‘Carve her Name with Pride’ and English Heritage has recently announced that it is to honour Noor’s wartime service with a blue plaque.
In the petition Zehra Zaidi outlines the reasons for her proposal:
“Apart from the Queen, only three other women have ever featured on bank notes. None of these notes have ever featured an ethnic minority. None of these notes have ever featured a member of the armed forces. We would like for this to change, especially as this year is the centenary of World War I, Royal Air Force and women’s right to vote.
“The current £50 bank note has been the first to have two people: engineer and scientist James Watt and industrialist and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton. So why not three?
“These three war heroines served during World War II in the Special Operations Executive, a special unit set up by Winston Churchill “to set Europe ablaze”. They were each awarded the highest civilian gallantry honour, the George Cross. Two of the women, Noor and Violette, received it posthumously.
“Let us honour their incredible bravery and sacrifice and, by doing so, honour all the women of the SOE. In all, 50 SOE women agents were landed in France during World War II. Fifteen of them were captured by the Nazis, two escaped and Odette returned, the lone survivor.
“Remembrance Sunday will soon be upon us. It is important that we remember our history. We need to remember that the SOE came from all backgrounds and stood up to fight the evil of Nazism that was threatening freedom everywhere. Resistance against tyranny can come in many forms and from the least expected place. We must never forget. Let us use this campaign to educate and inspire young people.”
The petition has already been signed by nearly 17,000 people, including MPs, Ministers, diplomats, historians, journalists and members of national organisations. It can be found on Put Noor Inayat Khan GC, Violette Szabó GC and Odette Hallowes GC on new £50 on change.org.