WWII Spy Makes Her Final Escape

Last Updated on November 14, 2023 by Allison Coe

Last August, a story in the Nice-Matin about an 86-year-old woman who miraculously survived 3 nights after falling into a ravine near her Levens home, caught the eye of Lord Ashdown.   He had been searching for Suzanne Leglise, the only surviving member of an illustrious French-British WWII spy ring, for over 30 years, and in discovering her revealed her incredible story.

In 1940, Suzanne was a 16-year-old schoolteacher in Bordeaux when she discovered that her hotelier father was secretly running a large resistance network.  She begged to join and he reluctantly agreed, starting her as a courier, working up to spy missions, and finally sabotage missions.  In 1942, on one such mission, she fell in love with Charles the Demolisher, an explosives expert.  Their love grew and their missions multiplied, culminating in ‘Operation Frankton’ which blew up enemy ships anchored in the Port of Bordeaux.   Then in 1943 Suzanne’s father discovered that a member of their network was actually a double agent, but it was too late: the family home was surrounded by 80 members of the Gestapo and although the 4 held out all night, by morning they were forced to surrender. Her mother was wounded but then escaped from the hospital, her father was sent to Buchenwald but survived, and Charles was never heard of again.  Suzanne was sent to the Ravensbruk concentration camp, where she managed to stay alive, and then escaped from the camp just 1 week before the liberation.

Flash forward a lifetime later, last August, when the frail elderly Suzanne was trapped for 3 days and nights after falling into a ravine.  At 86 years old, it was her natural instincts that saved her life: without water or food, she lived by licking the dew off of leaves surrounding her.  In spite of the abrasions covering her body, she escaped uninjured – physically, that is.  Concerning her physiological state, the recovery has been much more complicated.  “She thought that she was again at war”, explained her son, Yves.  “When she heard the gendarmes, she thought they were the Gestapo.  That was the reason it took us so long to find her.  Since the accident she has been very weak.  When the Lord Ashdown showed her the photo of Charles the Demolisher, she told him that she did not know him.  Yet, when we weren’t looking, she told one of my daughters, ‘Above all, we must not say anything.’ ”   Her emotional state has been further complicated by the 5-year anniversary of the suicide of her son, who ended his life a short walk from her house, with Suzanne’s old pistol from the war.  Since then, when she wanders, she usually wanders down around that spot.

After the ravine incident, her son provided her with a GPS transmitter, arranged for a nurse to provide constant surveillance, and kept the doors locked to prevent her from wandering out, but she escaped anyway by picking the lock.  Placing her in a rest home for war veterans near Vence, she vowed to escape, and then did so by hiding in the trunk of a plumber’s car that had come to work on a pipe.

This week she made her final escape: after leaving the GPS transmitter at the door, she left the house and has not come back.   A massive search with helicopters, heat sensors and dogs, has come up with nothing.

See related guide page: The WWII Liberation of Nice – What Really Happened

Sources: Nice-Matin – Octogenaire fugueuse a encore disparu; Francesoir.fr – Incroyable vie Suzanne Leglise

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