Page last updated at 01:48 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 02:48 UK

War heroine 'not classed leader'

Pearl Cornioley
Pearl Cornioley was a vital member of the French Resistance in WWII

A female agent of WWII was assessed as "not having the personality to act as a leader" before she was parachuted into France, files have revealed.

Pearl Cornioley, who died in February, ended up in command of 3,000 French resistance fighters.

Documents released at the National Archives say Mrs Cornioley was later commended for "colossal bravery" and "outstanding powers of leadership".

She was eventually given her Parachute Wings at the age of 92.

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) wartime agent was born in Paris to an expatriate English couple.

She parachuted into France in September 1943 to work as a courier to a Resistance group.

In May 1944, she assumed control of 1,500 Resistance members and on D-Day was appointed to command some 3,000 members of the Maquis, who were the rural wartime French Resistance.

Medal decorations

Despite taking on these responsibilities, she was described in one British training report prior to her departure for France as not being leadership material, and it also suggested that she be best employed as a "subordinate".

Pearl Cornioley
Pearl Cornioley was commended for 'colossal bravery'

But another training assessment described her as "probably the best shot - male or female - we have yet had" and that "this student, though a woman, has definitely got leaders' qualities. Cool and resourceful and extremely determined".

Mrs Cornioley, who died in France aged 93, was awarded the Legion d'Honneur and made a CBE by the Queen in 2004.

She was recommended for the Military Cross after the war, but was ineligible because she was a woman.

She was offered a civil MBE as an alternative,, which she refused. Instead she was appointed an MBE (military division) by the air ministry.

Of her offer of a civil MBE, she had said: "I do consider it to be most unjust to be given a civilian decoration.

"Our training, which we did with the men, was purely military and as women we were expected to replace them in the field."


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