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Byline: MIKE LOCKLEY Sunday Mercury Writer

ASPECTACULAR garden is to be created in honour of a British wartime spy murdered by her Nazi captors.

The show garden, inspired by the bravery of Violette Szabo, will open at the Royal Horticultural Society Malvern Spring Festival.

Violette was just 23 years old when she was captured, tortured and executed by the SS. She was shot at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp on February 5, 1945. She had been trained in the Midlands, serving in Shropshire, and the home she used as a holiday retreat in Wormelow, Herefordshire, has been turned into a museum.

Her life was immortalised in the 1958 movie Carve Her Name With Pride.

Violette's story of courageous heroism so moved Norfolk designer Jane Scott Moncrieff that she has dedicated her first garden at an RHS show to her memory.

Echoing a Normandy farmhouse and its surroundings, the garden is intended to evoke a feeling of rural delapidation in wartime France.

"I have been fascinated by the Special Operations Executive for over 20 years," says Jane. "After learning all about Violette's story within the organisation, I wanted to raise awareness about the incredibly selfless men and women who put their lives at risk over 75 years ago."

Violette, born in France but raised in Stockwell, London, last visited the Wormelow property owned by her aunt and uncle in May 1944.

She wrote of the abundance of wild flowers seen on her strolls with cousins Norman, John, Joan, Brenda and Jean.

The colourful countryside seemed a million miles from the nightmare that awaited the fun-loving girl who was born Violette Bushell to an English father and French mother.

How she became immersed in the shadowy world of the Special Operations Executive remains unclear. She had trained on one of the first mixed anti-aircraft batteries of the 7th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Training Regiment, Royal Artillery in Oswestry, Shropshire.

We know Violette was married to a French officer, Etienne Szarbo, and that the couple had one child. No doubt her fluent French and work with the Auxiliary Territorial Service was brought to the SOE's attention and Violette was selected for training in July 1943.

Her second daring mission was to be her last. On June 4, 1944 - the date of her daughter's birthday - Violette and three colleagues dropped on open land near Limoges, France. She was tasked with smashing German communication lines.

Armed with a Sten gun, the car Violette was travelling in was stopped at a road block. Violette and driver Jacques Dufour - codename Anastasie - escaped under a hail of bullets, but she badly sprained her ankle during the race for freedom.

Bravely urging her colleague to flee, Violette, propped against an apple tree, provided covering fire until the bullets ran out.

It was a long, dramatic firefight. Defiant to the last, she spat out the cigarette given to her by a young German officer, and then spat in his face. The spy, racked with pain, was handed to the SS and interrogated for four days. After an 18-day journey, most of it spent shackled to SOE wireless operator Denise Bloch, Violette arrived at Ravensbruck Camp on August 25. It was a place of disease, despair and death.

But the brutal guards failed to dim her spirit. She was sent to work at a Heinkel factory but refused to make munitions and continually plotted an escape.

A thorn in the Nazis' side, she was sent back to Ravensbruck on January 19, 1945, placed in the punishment block and brutally beaten.

The death penalty was pronounced on February 5 - and SS Rottenfuhrer Schult fired a single bullet into the back of Violette's head as she knelt down.

Three other members of the SOE were executed at Ravensbruck: Denise Bloch and Lilian Rolfe - both of whom had to be carried by stretcher to their deaths - and Cecily Lefort, who was killed in the gas chambers. Violette was posthumously honoured with the George Cross on December 17, 1946.

| The Royal Horticultural Society Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 7 to 10 this year.


| Violette Szarbo, her medals and the garden planned in her honour
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Author:MIKE LOCKLEY Sunday Mercury Writer
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Feb 9, 2020
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