Les Marguerites Fleuriront ce Soir
by Jeffrey W. Bass, Oil on Canvas, 2006
Donated by Richard J. Guggenhime
Virginia Hall was a Baltimore native who joined the US State Department in the 1930s, serving as a clerk with postings in Warsaw, Poland, Venice, Italy, and Izmir, Turkey. A hunting accident resulted in the amputation of her left leg and precluded her from overseas assignments with the State Department, so she resigned. At the outbreak of WW II, she eagerly joined the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) to fight fascism. Her fluency in French landed her a clandestine assignment in Lyons, where she went to work developing the area’s resistance operations. Over the next 15 months, every British agent arriving in France passed through her flat for instructions, counterfeit money, and contacts. In addition, she orchestrated supply drops and helped endangered agents escape to England. Betrayed in November 1942, she had to use her own escape route out of France, just steps ahead of her now infamous pursuer, Klaus Barbie, “the butcher of Lyons.”
Hall then joined the Special Operations Branch of the Office of Strategic Services in March 1944 and asked to return to occupied France. OSS promptly granted her request and reinfiltrated her aboard a British PT boat. Disguised as a farmwoman, she carried cheese to local villages to count German troops and identify drop zones for the Allied invasion to come.
The painting portrays Hall in the early morning hours, radioing London from an old barn near Le Chambon sur Ligon to request supplies and personnel. Power for her radio was provided by a discarded bicycle rigged to turn an electric generator, the clever invention of one of her captains, Edmund Lebrat. Coded messages such as “Les marguerites fleuriront ce soir” (the daisies will bloom at night) apprised Hall of what airdrops to expect from London and when. After D-Day, a Jedburgh team joined her, and together they trained resistance forces to wage guerrilla warfare. OSS Director William Donovan awarded Virginia Hall the Distinguished Service Cross—the only one given to a civilian woman during that war. Hall later worked for the CIA, serving in many jobs as one of CIA’s first female operations officers.
Forty years after she retired from CIA and almost 25 years after her death, the painting honoring Hall’s work was unveiled in 2006 at the French ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC. Ambassador Jean-David Levitte read a letter from French President Jacques Chirac. In it, he called Ms. Hall a “true hero of the French Resistance” and added, “On behalf of her comrades in the Resistance, French combatants, and all of France, I want to tell her family and friends that France will never forget this American friend who risked her life to serve our country.”