The Real-Life Secret Army

To celebrate the return of Secret Army to our screens, we look at some of the real resistance legends who fought back against the Nazi machine…

Secret Army

Secret Army is a powerful saga about seemingly ordinary men and women who, while pretending to be compliant citizens, risk everything to resist Nazi oppression during World War Two. It's a story that packs an emotional wallop - all the more so when we consider the real-life resistance fighters who helped save Europe's soul. Here are just some of the heroes of that time, beginning with the woman whose incredible exploits directly inspired Secret Army...

Secret Army

Watch Secret Army Saturday afternoons from 1pm.

ANDRĖE DE JONGH

Secret Army is about Lifeline, a secret network helping stranded airmen escape the clutches of the Nazis. The real-life equivalent was the Comet Line, which was created by a 20-something woman called Andrée de Jongh. Once a commercial artist in Brussels, she almost single-handedly formed the Comet Line escape route, much to the shock of British intelligence officials who met her after she personally accompanied several airmen on their hazardous trek through Nazi-occupied territory.

The British suspected her of being a German spy at first - surely it was impossible that a young, beautiful, seemingly delicate woman would be the mastermind behind such an audacious scheme? But she certainly was the mastermind, helping hundreds of airmen to safety. Everyone underestimated her, even the Gestapo, who also couldn't believe she was in charge of the line. De Jongh not only survived the war, but she would go onto work at a leper colony and an Ethiopian hospital, and lived to the ripe, and very deserved, old age of 90.

JEAN MOULIN

Few resistance fighters were as dashing and charismatic as Jean Moulin, whose swashbuckling bravery made him an icon in his native France. At the onset of the war he was a minor government official, and was hauled in by the Germans after he refused to sign a document blaming black French troops for committing massacres. The troops had actually fought bravely against the Nazis for the French republic, and were now being scapegoated by vengeful Germans.

For his defiance, Moulin was beaten and locked away, and - fearing the worst - he attempted suicide by cutting his own throat. It resulted in a scar he would always hide with a scarf. That scarf, along with his dark hat, become his trademark. Moulin would be a key member of the French resistance, helping organize and manage their actions before he was eventually arrested and murdered by the Gestapo. As a biographer later wrote, "savagely beaten, he attained the limits of human suffering without betraying a single secret, he who knew everything."

Secret Army - Saturdays at 1pm.

Secret Army - Saturdays at 1pm.

HANNIE SCHAFT

Dubbed the "girl with the red hair", Hannie Schaft wasn't quite as sweet and adorable as that makes her sound. She was actually a fierce and lethal operative in the Dutch resistance, who started out by rebelling against the toxic anti-Jewish laws. She would steal ID cards to be used by Jewish friends who had been forced into hiding by the invading forces, and before long she was committing acts of sabotage against the regime.

Hannie Schaft distinguished herself for being able to carry out missions which were usually only given to men. These included transporting weapons and even killing Nazi collaborators. Her distinctive looks eventually became known to the Gestapo, and had to dye her hair black. Unfortunately, the red roots of her hair gave away her identity to some vigilant Nazis, and she was sentenced to death. Her executioner bungled the first shot, leading Schaft to come out with her immortal last words: "I shoot better than you."

VIOLETTE SZABO

Another legendary female fighter in the resistance was Violette Szabo. While being half-French, Szabo was raised in London and was a bolshy Cockney girl through and through. At the start of the war she was one of the "land girls" who helped grow essential crops in the countryside, but she was determined to take the battle to the Nazis after her husband was killed in action.

After being trained up in everything from marksmanship to cryptography, Szabo became a fearless operative in the badlands of Nazi-occupied Europe. One historian wrote that she was described as a "dark slip of mischief" and, according to one historian, she was "adored... both for her courage and endless infectious Cockney laughter". Caught during a firefight with the Nazis, she spat in the face of her captors and was sent to a concentration camp. Here, she somehow maintained her strength and morale despite horrifying punishments, before she was eventually executed. Szabo's story made her an icon of the war, and inspired a classic British film, Carve Her Name With Pride.