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TIME Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ is Executed

TIME Magazine dated 4 January 1932; Pierre Laval as “Man of the Year.” Oil painting by Harris Rodvogin. Author’s collection.
TIME Magazine dated 4 January 1932; Pierre Laval as “Man of the Year.” Oil painting by Harris Rodvogin. Author’s collection.

Each year since 1927, TIME Magazine names its “Man of the Year” (now called “Person of the Year”). Individual women have been named five times (e.g., Wallis Simpson, Soong Mei-ling, Queen Elizabeth II, Corazon Aquino, and Angela Merkel), thirteen groups have been named (e.g., “U.S. Scientists,” “American Women,” and “The Whistleblowers”), an inanimate object once (the computer), and in several instances, very controversial selections were made (e.g., Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin). The editorial board uses the following criteria for making its decision: the selection must profile a person, group, an idea, or an object that “for better or worse . . . has done the most to influence the events of the year.”

Although some of their selections ultimately met their end by assassination (e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Anwar Sadat), I’m not aware of anyone who was executed. That is, except for Pierre Laval the 1931 ”Man of the Year”.

On the morning of his scheduled execution at Fresnes Prison south of Paris, Pierre Laval (1883−15 October 1945) laid down on his prison cot, pulled the sheets over his head, and bit down on a cyanide capsule. The poison was too old to finish him off. The doctors pumped his stomach along with other efforts to keep him alive. Charles de Gaulle declared that Laval would have to be shot while laying on a stretcher but his orders were refused because French code would not allow it. Laval had to be standing on his own in order to be executed by a firing squad. By 11:30 A.M., Laval regained consciousness and the process began. After being dressed, he was escorted to the police car which drove him to the execution site. Tied to the stake but not blindfolded, Laval stood straight. His body was deposited in a graveyard reserved for disgraced individuals. Eventually, his family was allowed to remove his remains and bury him at Montparnasse Cemetery (we will visit his grave in my future book Where Did They Bury Jim Morrison, the Lizard King? A Walking Tour of Curious Paris Cemeteries. Read More TIME Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ is Executed

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Women Agents of the SOE

 

War Memorial dedicated to the SOE. Photo by mattbuck (2014). PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.
War Memorial dedicated to the SOE. Photo by mattbuck (2014). PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.

We have all read or seen articles and films on the activities of spies during World War II. Usually these are about the men of MI6 (British), OSS (America), and to a much lesser extent, the Soviet Union’s spy networks (e.g., The Red Orchestra). We’ve recently heard (thanks to declassification) about the wartime contributions of British women in regards to code breaking and Operation Enigma. However, there was a group of young and very dedicated women who were important members of the clandestine British operation called Special Operations Executive (SOE).

The SOE was formed in July 1940 on the orders of Churchill. There is some question by historians as to its effectiveness during the German occupation of European territories but to the SOE agents, their activities were extremely beneficial to the various Resistance movements, especially in France. It was also very dangerous.

The organization was divided up into departments based on the country they operated in. The network in France was code named “F Section.” Women from the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) or the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force were recruited for the SOE. A total of 55 women served as agents during the war (39 of them in F Section). Thirteen or one third of the women dropped into France went missing and it was ultimately determined they had been murdered in various Nazi extermination camps. Read More Women Agents of the SOE