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They Shoot Spies: the untold story of the first female agents – Dr Viv Newman

Dr Newman’s lecture began with the story of Aphra Benn, a 17th century British poet, author and playwright, who was recruited as a political spy by King Charles II, in Belgium, before her career as a writer. 

She also talked about Marthe Cnockhaert, a young Belgian nurse during the First World War. Marthe spied on Germans for the Allied Forces and was imprisoned in 1916. Her story was made into a film in 1933, but now has largely been forgotten, even though she is believed to be the only woman to have been decorated by France, Belgium, Great Britain and Germany.

Dr Newman followed this with the story of French secret agent, Louise de Bettignes, and Belgian secret agent, Gabrielle Petit, who was executed in 1916 and became a Belgian national heroine after the War's end.  

The lecture gave a fascinating insight into the lives of women, who bravely went undercover for what they believed in.