This is the second of our two-parter about Mary Lindell. If you haven’t already, you can read Part 1 here.
By 1939 Mary Lindell, who had stayed in France, had become the Comtesse de Milleville and had three children. This did not stop her putting on her Red Cross uniform, with medals, and going and volunteering for service.
At the beginning of the Second World War, the phoney war period, the French Red Cross decided that they didn’t want the Comtesse’s services. This changed in the spring of 1940, the Comtesse had volunteered to take an ambulance column out of Paris. She sent her children to Vannes by bicycle telling them to avoid Germans. Then at 11am one morning she got a phone call telling her that the whole of the Red Cross in Paris had disappeared and there was a convoy of ambulances that need to be taken to Bordeaux. This was the 14th June 1940 and by the end of the day the Nazis would hold Paris. The Comtesse grabbed her car and went to the ambulances, with her car at the head of the column and her friend at the back the column they made it 14 miles out of Paris that very day. It took them 7 hours.
After making it to Vichy France and dropping off her patients, the Comtesse met up with her children and made it back to Paris where she came to the decision to start an escape line. Not long after this she was approached to reunite children with their families in the unoccupied zone. She approached the US embassy to try and appropriate funds, here she met a British colonel, Cecil Shaw. Shaw would provide her with a ‘mechanic’ whom would join her on the drive into Vichy France. This and a network of friends’ farm houses were to become her first Escape Line. This worked up until Mary was sent to prison for 9 months. When the end of her sentence came, Mary was encouraged to escape to Britain by the warder who released her without orders.
After an arduous trip via Gibraltar to England Mary was interviewed by MI9 (Escape and Evasion) and offered to return to France and set up another escape route. Jim Langley and Airey Neave were rather wary of sending Mary back to France but her forceful personality won through and she returned to Rufflec via Lysander. It was not an easy return home as she was in an accident and was badly injured. The Germans were also looking for her but her carers hid her.
When she finally returned to Rufflec the Marie-Claire line was set up. The most famous evaders to use this escape line were Major Hasler and Marine Sparkes, the only two survivors of the Cockle Shell Heroes mission, Operation Frankton. After passing these men over to another line she was betrayed and captured. According to her biography she tried to escape from the train and was shot. She was transported to Ravensbrück where after she recovered she took up the mantle of nurse in the camp hospital. Before the liberation of the camp the guards separated the inmates into sections and Mary was put in the section to be executed but the SS doctor told her to move into the other section, saving her life.
Mary defended the Doctor at the Hamburg/Ravensbrück war trial.
She passed away in Paris in 1986.
Written for Sheroes of History by Mary Miles. Mary is a historian planning on doing a PhD centred on the women of SOE. She runs her own blog at www.mojiefiedhistory.co.uk runs 3 historically led Facebook pages and can be found on twitter as @tzarinadraconis
Find out more…
Find out more about the Marie-Claire line here.
See more information about Mary Lindell along with some great photos here.
The book, The Scarlett Countess gives tells the story of Mary’s incredible life.