Louise de Bettignies
Louise Marie Jeanne Henriette de Bettignies came from a privileged French background. In 1898, at the age of 18, she left home to study in England to improve her English before returning to France to graduate from the University of Lille in 1903. De Bettignies then worked as a tutor for various prominent families in Europe, only declining a position in the household of Ferdinand Joseph, the heir to the Austrian Empire because of ill health.
Her skills as a linguist were to serve her in good stead during the war, as not only was Louise fluent in English but she also spoke German. In October 1914, Lille was under bombardment and de Bettignies worked to supply food and ammunition for the defenders of the city, as well as dictating letters home from dying German soldiers to their families.
But after the German’s took Lille, de Bettignies became “the Queen of Spies”, Her frail appearance helped deflect attention from her as she began to work for both the British army and M16 under the pseudonym of ‘Alice Dubois’, providing Intel about the German occupied zones of Belgium and northern France.
During its nine months of operation in 1915, de Bettignies’ network saved the lives of more than a thousand British soldiers- and supplied vital information- such as alerting the British to the location of a train carrying the German Kaiser, which they attempted unsuccessfully to derail.
On 20 October 1915 de Bettignies was arrested near Tournai, and sentenced to death in Brussels in 1916. Her sentence was commuted to hard labor. But after 3 years incarceration, her poor health betrayed her and she died in September 1918 of pleural abscesses. She was buried in Lille and posthumously awarded the Cross-of the Legion of Honor, the Croix de Guerre and the British Military medal and made an officer of the British Empire.