Updating the Legacy of a War Heroine

Book review: Lindell’s List
by Peter Hore

Early on in reading Lindell’s List, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to keep track of all the people who were in some way involved in the stories and narrative, whether integrally or peripherally. There were so many introduced in rapid succession, and sometimes they’d be gone just as quickly, and I got lost. I hate that, because I feel like I’m starting over every time I pick the book back up.

BUT once you settle into the book’s pattern, it’s actually quite readable – each chapter is fairly short and usually action-focused, so it’s easy to breeze through and learn a lot in the process. Just don’t get bogged down in the names and some too-heavy statistics, which I  didn’t find so helpful.

Mary Lindell was a British nurse in the First and Second World Wars. Feisty, determined, and incredibly headstrong, she identified with and emulated another heroic British war nurse, Edith Cavell, and tried in her own work and interactions to be unbiased and helpful as Cavell was.

Married to a French count, Mary was living in France when WWII broke out and she began aiding in the escape of Allied pilots using an escape route, later establishing an escape pipeline of her own. Her family, troubled as it became during the war years, also participated in her escape route and resistance work, often suffering greatly themselves.

At one point Mary was so badly wounded that she was pronounced dead. Luckily one doctor was actually paying attention and realized that wasn’t the case, but it was a remarkable anecdote about her strength and perseverance even at great physical cost, especially considering that she wasn’t a young woman during this time. Eventually she was arrested after having pinged the Germans radar too many times, and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious concentration camp housing female prisoners in Germany.

As author Peter Hore points out, Mary has been the subject of other books and biographies, but her story has been largely passed over in favor of figures with more abundant information available about their wartime exploits, and also those who were younger and prettier. Mary’s legacy was tarnished for a long time by unfounded accusations that she’d carried on an affair with a Ravensbrück camp doctor, Percy Treite. Hore sets out to debunk this myth and add some substance, thoroughly researching and providing a clearer picture of her life and work as well as of those around her, both heroes and villains. I think the strongest section of the book was when she was actually in Ravensbrück and made the list of the book’s title, containing the names of British and American women imprisoned at the camp. Through her connections and trademark stubbornness, she got the women out of the camp and on to neutral Malmö, Sweden.

As a character herself, Mary is fascinating as she’s brash and set in her ways and not particularly likable, as those close to her admit. But she exuded authority and was able to bluff and boss her way through many a situation that would have derailed someone less brave. Included are some shining instances of Mary’s daring personality and her sharp tongue, and these were the absolute highlights of the book for me. She got in trouble with the Germans and was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment for saying “These swine are going to arrest me.” Her defense was that they didn’t understand the meaning of “swine”: she’d intended it not as the commonly understood insult, but rather swine as “wild boar, an animal of courage and ferocity. Therefore in my context I was praising the German army, not deriding it.”

They didn’t buy it, but she tried!

What the book strives to show is that Mary was, above all, a natural leader and a steadfast fighter in wartime resistance. Rumors of any forays into German sympathizing or double crossing seem under close examination of the facts to be just that; rumors. In that sense, this was an important historical work; serving to clear her name and flesh out important details of her activities. The woman herself definitely is deserving of such a testament to her good deeds.

Lindell’s List: Saving British and American Women at Ravensbrück
by Peter Hore

published December 1, 2016 by Trafalgar Square Publishing, The History Press

I received an advance copy courtesy of the publisher for review.

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