Louise de Bettignies: the pro-British ‘Joan of Arc’

Louise de Bettignies assisted the Allies in the Great War by establishing a vital information network in northern France. Patricia Stoughton recounts her extraordinary bravery.

The northern French town of Saint- Amand-les-Eaux is preparing to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the birth in July 1880 of the First World War spy, Louise de Bettignies, a woman who was a heroine for Britain too.

During a few short months in 1915 de Bettignies, working for British Intelligence, set up one of the most effective information-gathering networks across Occupied northern France and Belgium. With the support of her lieutenant and fellow patriot Marie-Léonie Vanhoutte, she organised recruits to watch trains, report on German troop movements and locate ammunition stores. At one time they were able to pinpoint enemy gun positions around Lille with such accuracy that the guns had to be moved every few days to limit damage from Allied attacks.

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