I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so littleThe Gestapo broke her legs and feet, dumped her unconscious by a roadside after an officer was bribed not to kill her, and she then continued to work with the Polish underground. She died a couple of days ago, in her late nineties.
If it is sexist to feel particular admiration and affection for elderly women of enormous courage, then I plead guilty. I had the privilege of knowing two. Louise Vidaud, who I wrote about when she died a couple of years ago. Elizabeth Furse, who befriended me when I was giving evidence against the fraudster and perjurer Darius Guppy, who she had known since he was a child - he was always a bad one, she told me in the corridor of the court. She lent me pain killers because I had broken a couple of ribs playing rugby that weekend, cooked me dinner in 'the only slum in Pimlico' where she lived ('Bring a lettuce, darling') and scornfully waved away any mention of her wartime work with SOE, when she was captured by the Gestapo, sentenced to death, reprieved in a swap of spies, then parachuted straight back into occupied France.
All those two tiny, birdlike, elderly women wanted was to continue with their work - Louise's attempts to rescue American POWs from Vietnam, Elizabeth as the hostess of a salon which no longer existed, bringing together the brightest young people, especially men - both adored men and were delightfully flirtatious with those they liked. Both were completely dismissive, well beyond the point of rudeness, of those they didn't like.
Alistair Cooke and Bill Deedes both continued to be influential and admired to the last, working into their nineties, but I can't think of any women who have held that sort of prominence into extreme old age. Sendler rescued twice as many people as Oscar Schindler, but lived in relative obscurity. There's only one possible explanation for this, and it is a very great disgrace for the rest of us. We can still, just, and only sometimes, value the voices of old men, but we don't seem able to do so with old women. In the bar where I sat reading earlier this evening, there was talk of one of the few surviving Dambusters, who sometimes drinks there, but I've never overheard anyone talk admiringly of anything a woman of that generation did.
Shame on us.
* What on earth is wrong with me? They were children, that's all that needs to be said.