Women of SOE

Discussion in 'SOE & OSS' started by Gage, Feb 12, 2006.

  1. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    Here's Julia Child talking about her time in the OSS. I don't know why she didn't mention that after working in the file section she went to China, India and Ceylon


    "Julia Child a Spy!" exulted last week's headlines after the release by the National Archives of hitherto redacted names from Office of Strategic Services (OSS) personnel files.
    [​IMG] Associated PressThe palate of the host of 'The French Chef' was first awakened while she was on wartime assignments in Ceylon and China, not France.

    One can only imagine the fictional narrative fantasies this declassification might inspire: Parachuted behind the lines during the German Occupation of France, the 6-foot-2 Smith College graduate met her future husband, multilingual sophisticate Paul Child, a liaison to the Resistance in the Maquis. In the clandestine world of safe houses, the daughter of the safely Republican Pasadena McWilliams clan acquired the fundamentals of French cuisine.
    Would that it were true. The facts are infinitely more prosaic, but fascinating nonetheless.
    Though Julia Child, with characteristic Yankee modesty, was to disparage, in numerous interviews, her wartime career as "a clerk," Paul revealed otherwise. In a letter to his twin brother, he declared her "privy to all messages both incoming from the field or Washington, etc., and outgoing to our agents and operatives all over China-Burma-India."
    Seen from a view of posterity, her "boring" job was to provide Julia Child with the discipline, the autonomous organizational skill, the patience to devise, test and perfect the recipes in her encyclopedic chef-d'oeuvre: "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (1961, 1970), on which her immortality can be said to rest.
    Julia McWilliams's "undercover" career began, one might say, in April 1942 with her declining a marriage proposal from Harrison Chandler -- an L.A. (Times) Chandler, no less.
    Soon after, she decided to leave Pasadena (where the 1942 Rose Bowl had been canceled as part of the war effort). She quit her Red Cross volunteer work as head of "Stenographic Services, typing, and mimeographing" (to which, after Pearl Harbor, she had already added Aircraft Warning Services).
    She took the Civil Service Exam, applied to the Waves (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services) and the WAC (Women's Army Corps). She was, at 6-foot-2, however, apparently considered too tall for the service. Nonetheless, she moved to Washington, where, she told a friend, "the action" was. "The war was the change in my life," she wrote.
    First as senior typist in the Office of War Information (August 1942), then as junior research assistant in the office of OSS Director "Wild" Bill Donovan, Julia joined America's novice intelligence team: the Ivy Leaguers, the Martini-drinking best and brightest, many of whose names have only recently been revealed, including Allen Dulles, later head of the CIA, and future Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg. The OSS members were disparaged as fly-by-nighters, "Oh So Social" or "Oh Such Snobs."
    Julia "rose through the ranks" from senior clerk to administrative assistant, organizing a large office. She lived in the Brighton Hotel, cooked (badly) on a hot plate that splattered the wallpaper with chicken fat, she admitted.
    When she heard in 1943 that the OSS wanted volunteers for service in India, she applied; bored and in search of adventure, she was "free, white, and thirty-one," ready and eager to go.
    And it was in Asia, not France -- especially on assignment in China and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) -- that the palate of the star of the future "French Chef" TV series would first be awakened, weaned from the golden age of canned, frozen and other processed food, the world of Pasadena home cooking.
    And it was Asia that changed her life, for it was there, in May 1944, in Kandy (Ceylon) that Julia McWilliams met Paul Child, 10 years her senior, a connoisseur of wine, women and cuisine, who became her lover, mentor and initiator into those fine tastes available even in war-torn China and Ceylon.
    The move to HQ in the Shangri-La setting of Kandy had a serious purpose: guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. Though Julia knew more of golf clubs than international cables and spies, she had high security clearance to file and process classified dispatches for the SEAC (South East Asia Command) under Lord Mountbatten.
    While she came to hate the routine of office work, Julia thrilled at the secrets and at the proximity of danger and of her new-found colleague, Paul Child, who worked in graphics and photography designing war rooms. With Paul she came to share passion, but also a passion for the Rijstafel curry table with "as many condiments as the human imagination can devise." She brought to the table her keen sense of humor and her propensity for practical jokes.
    After 10 months in Kandy, Julia flew, via Calcutta, to Kunming, China, to set up and run the OSS Registry. It was March 1945 (Germany was to surrender in May), and Asia was now the focus of the war.
    Paul designed Gen. Albert Wedemeyer's China War Room, and Julia, with a staff of 10 assistants, opened, numbered and directed all forms, devising new systems for code names and filing secret papers. The conflict between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong was already in the offing, and Americans were divided in their loyalties.
    Meanwhile, Chinese cuisine beckoned: "American food in China was terrible; we thought it was cooked by grease monkeys. The Chinese food was wonderful, and we ate out as often as we could. That is when I became interested in food. I just loved Chinese food."
    More than that, her sophisticated Ivy League colleagues talked so much about the food they ate. Julia, Paul would later say, was always hungry: "She's a wolf by nature."
    The war against Japan ended in August 1945; Julia's career in espionage, almost as soon. For a brief two years Julia became the consummate Georgetown housewife with a newly jobless husband, Paul, to feed, depleting his OSS savings and her family inheritance. Julia studied "The Joy of Cooking." Eager to please her new husband, she struggled with recipes, relying on Paul's savvy.
    A move to France, where Paul joined the U.S. Information Agency, came none too soon in October 1948.
    On Nov. 3 of that year, Julia was to "master the joy of devouring French cooking," having her personal gastronomic epiphany when she sat down to a feast of oysters, sole meunière, Pouilly-Fuissé and tarte tatin at Restaurant La Couronne on the Place du Vieux-Marché in Rouen. "The whole experience was an opening up of the soul and spirit for me. I was hooked, and for life, as it turned out."

    Julia Child: The OSS Years - WSJ.com
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  2. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek

    Violette Szabo should never have been sent back - a tough call but it would been right to keep her back after her first mission was over.
  3. 76Habs

    76Habs New Member

    History has not treated Buchmaster well, many unanswered questions.Sad stories indeed about Violette and Noor. who both were true heroes . "Between Silk and Cyanide" was very revealing to many issues raised in this thread. PBS did a special on Noor last year and it was very well done called " Enemy of the Reich" and although it didn't cover everything ( traitor Gilbert ) it was very informative.
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