Events · Uncategorized

The Limping Lady

A few years ago, while reviewing interchange improvement plans for the intersection of York Road (MD 45) and I-83 in Parkton, Maryland, I noticed an interesting-looking structure on several historic aerial photographs. I could go into a lengthy explanation here, but let’s just say there were a number of clues that were evident even in black-and-white aerials that pointed to the building being old-timey.

It was also clear that the building had been demolished around the time the Parkton interchange was constructed in the 1970s, but it was difficult to tell exactly where the building had been in relation to the modern roads. So, I decided to investigate further, in case there might be an archaeological site present in one of the interchange’s loops. Unfortunately, it turned out that the house and small farm had been completely destroyed, but I was able to find a name in the land records. The place had been called “Box Horn Farm.”

I would’ve left it there, except that I just had to know what the hell a “box horn” is, so I Googled it. I never did find out what a box horn is, or if it’s even A Thing (although there is a village in Luxembourg called Boxhorn), but Googling this term is how I discovered that Box Horn Farm was the childhood country home of a woman named Virginia Hall, and that Virginia Hall was AMAZING.

She was so amazing that I decided she deserved a historic marker near her childhood home, so I wrote a nomination, which I’ve pasted below. I am absolutely delighted to tell you that my application was accepted, and the marker has been approved! So there will be an unveiling ceremony near the Parkton, Maryland post office at some point in the near future. If anyone would like to attend, please let us know, and we’ll tell you as soon as it’s scheduled! (UPDATE: It’s April 7 at 11 am!)

The only photograph I have been able to find of Box Horn Farm, from “Wolves at the Door: The Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy.”

Nomination for Historic Marker for Virginia Hall/Box Horn Farm:

Virginia Hall was born in Baltimore, Maryland on April 6, 1906, the youngest child of Edwin Lee Hall and Barbara Virginia (Hammel) Hall. The year after she was born, her parents purchased a property in Baltimore County near Parkton, called Box Horn Farm. Although her father’s business interests required him to spend some time in the city, the entire family spent as much time as possible at their country home, and Virginia grew up with an appreciation for the outdoors and a love of adventure that was born during her early exploits at Box Horn Farm. Her family kept Box Horn for well over 50 years, and she returned there every time she was in the states, until she was forced to sell to make way for Interstate 83 in 1971.

Virginia excelled at school, and pursued her college and postgraduate education in both the U.S. and Europe, with the ultimate goal of a career in the Foreign Service. In 1931, she served as a consular clerk in Poland, Turkey, Italy, and Estonia for State Department. Then, in 1932, she suffered a gunshot to the leg during a hunting trip in Turkey. The accidental injury led to the amputation of the lower part of her left leg. The wooden leg, which she nicknamed “Cuthbert,” eventually gave her one of her many wartime nicknames, “The Limping Lady.” The injury also barred her from her desired diplomatic career in Foreign Service, and she resigned from the State Department in 1939.

Hall was in Paris when France declared war on Germany in 1939, and she enlisted as a private in the French ambulance corps. After France surrendered, Hall traveled to London, where she was offered a job as a code clerk in the U.S. Defense Attaché Office. She rapidly tired of the desk job and as a result, in April of 1941, she volunteered for the intense training to qualify as a special agent of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). During her first mission to occupied France, Hall posed as a reporter for the New York Post while secretly organizing, funding, supplying, and arming the French resistance. She sent regular radio messages to London about German activities, organized acts of sabotage against German installations, and aided in the rescue of political prisoners, prisoners of war, and downed Allied airmen. German intelligence considered Hall one of the most dangerous Allied agents in France, and waged a tremendous campaign in an effort to capture her. To ensure her safety, the SOE recalled her to London in 1943.

On March 21, 1944, however, Hall arrived back in France via boat (not by parachute with her wooden leg under her arm, as many accounts state). This time she was in the employ of the OSS, forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Using the pseudonym “Diane” (one of her many code names), she embarked on her mission to send messages to London on the strength, movements, and activities of the Germans in France as the Allies prepared for Operation Overlord. Hall organized and helped to arm three combat battalions of the French Forces of the Interior. Working again with the French resistance, she also organized sabotage teams that destroyed German ammunition dumps, railroads, bridges, highways, and telephone lines and caused numerous German casualties. Following the liberation of France, Hall was selected for a dangerous mission in Austria, but the war ended before her team crossed the border.

Virginia Hall receiving the Distinguished Service Cross

In September 1945, Maj. Gen. William Donovan, head of the OSS, personally awarded Hall the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for “extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against the enemy.” She was the only female civilian to receive the DSC for her service during the war. After the war, she married Paul Goillot, a fellow OSS agent. She joined the Central Intelligence Group (later the CIA) in 1946, and worked there until her mandatory retirement at age 60 in 1966. Virginia Hall Goillot died on July 8, 1982 at the age of 76.

In the years since her passing, Virginia Hall has been repeatedly honored for her accomplishments. In 1988, she was inducted into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame. The US Army Intelligence Center honored her further by naming a dining facility after her in 1994. In 2006, the British ambassador presented her niece, Lorna Catling, with a Royal Warrant giving Virginia Hall membership in the Order of the British Empire. The award had been signed by King George VI in 1943, but Hall refused to accept it, since it would blow her cover. In November 2013, a bill was introduced to Congress “to award the Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to the members of the OSS in recognition of their superior service and major contributions during World War II.” Hall was specifically mentioned in the bill.

Despite the loss of a leg, discrimination against her because of her sex, and the best efforts of the Gestapo, Virginia Hall was determined to use her considerable bravery, intelligence, and skill in the service of her country. She played a significant role in the Allied victory in France while serving in extended, perilous, undercover activities. For her role in critical undercover operations in occupied France during World War II and her outstanding service to our country, she surely warrants the honor of a historical marker in the vicinity of her beloved family home. Although Virginia Hall did not place much importance on ceremonial honors and awards, her contribution to the war effort and her determination to find meaningful and satisfying employment in the ultimate hostile work environment are remarkable and inspiring. Marylanders would be well-served by a memorial to this outstanding citizen.

Box Horn Farm was destroyed when the Interstate 83 interchange in Parkton was built in the early 1970s. The Maryland State Highway Administration owns a substantial amount of right-of-way at this location, including nearly the entire parcel that once belonged to the Hall family. I propose that a marker honoring Virginia Hall be established near Box Horn Farm.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Limping Lady

  1. We reside in the house that was one of the original barns to Boxhorn Farm
    It was converted from a barn to a colonial in the 1970’s
    Our house is on Stablers Church Road
    We were told the original house sat across York road from our current dwelling

    Like

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