Fan excitement for the upcoming [Marvel's Agent Carter](series:1119765) TV series seems to boil over every single time Hayley Atwell shares a photo from the set. Peggy Carter is one of the most beloved female characters within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the action-packed world of the 1940's at war that she inhabits has some incredible real-life parallels. Captain America's former sweetheart is so much more than just that: as one of the founding members of S.H.I.E.L.D., Carter leads the Howling Commandos in Cap's absence, and works closely with the genius Howard Stark to uncover secrets through incredibly dangerous covert missions.
Along with her extremely impactful role as one of the only non-'super' characters to make a huge difference within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Peggy Carter also stands as a representation of many untold heroines - courageous women who served in World War II. While the classic images of skilled women building weapons and aircraft carriers in factories have filled our history books since childhood, we're rarely told of the many women who served their time behind the scenes, and within plain sight.
My friend Kiri Callaghan did an incredible video rundown of the impactful roles that women played in WWII, and just today, I stumbled across the story of a badass British secret agent by the name of Phyllis Latour Doyle.
Doyle holds more medals and honors than I can name off the top of my head, but I thought it'd be worth doing a breakdown on this amazing woman's career, and her epic feat of parachuting directly into the violent frenzy of World War II.
She Enrolled to Avenge Someone
"I did it for revenge," she told New Zealand’s Army News magazine in 2009, telling the story of how she joined SOE because her godmother’s father was shot by the Germans, and her grief-stricken godmother committed suicide after being imprisoned by them. Doyle largely considered her godmother's father to be her own grandfather, and after her godmother's death, she immediately sought out any way she could help with the war effort.
In 1941, at the young age of 20, Doyle enrolled in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force to work as a flight mechanic. It was quickly apparent to recruiters from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) that the young woman had the potential for much more. Doyle accepted, and immediately began an intense training program.
She Parachuted Directly into Normandy
Her most dangerous mission took place on May 1st, 1944, when Doyle leapt out of a US Air Force Bomber and landed behind enemy lines in German-occupied Normandy. She took the name Paulette and posed as a poor French girl, riding her bicycle across the countryside to sell soap to German soldiers in order to give away their positions to the Allies. Doyle is responsible for sending 135 coded messages to military officials leading up to the bloody battle of D-Day.
In an interview with the New Zealand Army News magazine, she described how risky her mission was, saying that: "The men who had been sent just before me were caught and executed. I was told I was chosen for that area of France because I would arouse less suspicion."
She Was an Incredible Spy
Along with encrypting messages and surveillance missions, part of her training included heavy physical combat: Doyle recalled being taught by a released thief to scale buildings without being caught, and her hand-to-hand combat skills matched many of her male counterparts.
She concealed messages in the most creative way: via her knitting supplies.
I always carried knitting because my codes were on a piece of silk -- I had about 2000 I could use. When I used a code I would just pinprick it to indicate it had gone. I wrapped the piece of silk around a knitting needle and put it in a flat shoe lace which I used to tie my hair up.
Back then, coded messages took at least half an hour to send, and the Germans could identify where a signal was sent from in an hour and a half - which meant that Doyle moved constantly to avoid detection. While she was able to stay with Allied sympathizers at times, Doyle often had to forage for food and sleep in the woods, but that hardly bothered the young and determined agent.
Thanks to her efforts, Allied forces were able to take out several German strongholds, but one particular casualty stayed with Doyle for her entire life: after sending a message regarding one outpost, Doyle was informed that a German mother and her children were among the casualties, and blamed their deaths on herself. "I can imagine the bomber pilots patting each other on the back and offering congratulations after a strike," she said, "But they never saw the carnage that was left. I always saw it, and I don’t think I will ever forget it."
She Didn't Tell Her Children Until 15 Years Ago
Humble and honorable, Doyle neglected to tell her children of her incredible service until almost fifteen years ago, after her eldest son discovered her story while researching D-Day.
What's more, she didn't even pursue the medals you see above until her children begged her to, asking them: ‘"but what did I do to merit that?"
She Just Received France's Highest Military Honor
On November 25th, in recognition of the 70 years that Mrs. Doyle spent without this well-deserved honor, she was given the Chevalier French Legion of Honour Medal, the highest military award within the French government. Doyle worked closely with both French and British agencies to bring forth the victory of the Allied forces against the Nazis, but the humble former spy had little to say when she was given the award, outside of the fact that it was a privilege and an honor.
What a badass. Doyle stands as just one of the many women within the Allied forces who risked their lives throughout the war to uncover masses of vital information and bring down Hitler's murderous regime. I hope that when Agent Carter kicks off, we'll learn even more about these courageous women and their work. You can read more about Phyllis Latour Doyle here.
Marvel's Agent Carter hits ABC on January 9th, 2015 at 9PM.