It’s not often that a portable QRPer operating CW captures the imagination of an artist.
The painter in this case is Jeff Bass and the woman at the key is Virginia Hall, aka “the spy with the wooden leg”.
Born in 1906, Hall grew up in Maryland and was educated in Radcliffe College & Columbia University before going to Europe to continue her education and study of languages.
She was in France when WW2 began, then left for England where she volunteered to serve the Allied Forces as a spy. The Brits sent her back to France for 8 months to help coordinate activities of the French Underground. To those not in the know, she was simply a journalist for the New York Post.
Hall played the key role of her section’s activities in unoccupied southern France; providing money and moral support for her fellow agents, keeping London supplied with useful intelligence, and occasionally helping downed airmen to escape but she was betrayed by priest Abbé Alesch, a double agent (who would be executed by firing squad in 1949) working for the Germans, and escaped to Spain.
Once back in England, Hall was trained in Morse Code and radio operations. She returned to France early in 1944 and was equipped with a Type 3 MK II suitcase transceiver. Her mission was to provide whatever intelligence she could as well as to arrange arms drops to the French Underground and to communicate the location of safe houses.
Hermann Göring put a price on her head, offering a reward for her capture. His orders were clear and merciless: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”
At war’s end, King George awarded her the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and General Donovan (head of OSS) presented Virginia with the Distinguished Service Cross in lieu of President Truman at her request due to the publicity that would be generated by the President.
For years, the British attemped to find Virginia, going so far as putting advertisements in numerous American newspapers. They finally realized she did not want to be found and had evidently requested the CIA chiefs withhold the information from MI6.
About the radio in the painting - designed by Major John Brown, a British Signals Officer, the Type 3 Mk II was the best-known and most common of the suitcase radios produced during the war. Approximately 7000 were made from 1942-45 at Stonebridge Park, London. It operated from 3.3-16 MHz using interchangeable crystals and coils. Output power was 15 watts and the whole contraption weighed 29 lbs (13 kg).
After the war, Virginia Hall returned to the United States and eventually retired from the CIA. She passed away on her farm in Maryland in 1982.
Often denying requests for interviews, Hall would simply say “Many of my friends were killed for talking too much.”
More about Virginia Hall can be found here.