In 2004/5 when I was interviewing women agents from the WW 2 era, I was also capturing the experiences of others in intelligence and/or WW 2, to broaden my general knowledge. It was at this time that I met Richard, a vibrant 85-year old decorated pilot and poet who had worked in the Royal Air Force Special Duties Service mainly flying Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents into occupied countries.
He told me a story about a young Italian SOE agent he was to drop behind enemy lines one evening. Although he said the crew did not interact with their ‘package’ drops for security reasons, this evening the weather turned stormy and the mission was aborted. One of the agents, a young woman, talked with him on the return flight. Since he never flew with the same SOE agents twice, he was not concerned about the security rule. After that, he didn’t know what happened to her until one night a few months later, while listening to classical music in his room near the airfield, she knocked on his door. She was wanting to celebrate the success of her Italian SOE mission.
The U.K Special Operations Executive (SOE) sought out the skilled and strategic Maddalena Cerasuolo in Naples. Within her resistance cell, headed by her father, she was known to be actively involved in gunfights with the Nazis and to volunteer for reconnaissance on German troop movements. She had participated overtly with rifles and hand grenades in the ‘Four Days of Naples’ battle. It was an insurrection against the Nazis for trying to block a major route into the city and a crucial branch of the aqueduct.
The SOE specifically trained Maddalena and parachuted her behind the lines near Rome to assassinate a specific high ranking German officer. Her cover story was the maid to Anna d’Andria, an artist and a socialite who held soirées and was collecting information for the resistance about German army positions.
In 1946 Maddalena Cerasuolo was awarded the Bronze Medal of Military Valor by the Italian government and received other commemodations posthumously. The bridge she helped defend in Naples is now named after her and there is a book written in Italian about Maddalena Cerasuolo‘s exploits. However, her contributions were never acknowledged with a military medal from the U.K government.
Sidebar: Almost half of the Italian resistance were women including those who oversaw publications.