CWGC x Herstory Club: Simon, Megan & Brookwood Military Cemetery

Heading up the Education and Engagement Team at the CWGC are Simon Bendry, who is the Head of Education and Engagement, and Megan Maltby, who is the Public Engagement Manager. 

Simon Bendry

Simon spent 20 years working in education, first as a teacher in secondary education, and then seven years at University College London leading the national education programme for the First World War Centenary. As part of this he delivered the Battlefield Tours Programme which gave him the opportunity to spend a lot of time visiting and guiding at CWGC sites across the Western Front. In April 2020, he joined CWGC to head up the education and community engagement programmes.

Megan Maltby

Megan began her career with the Commission with the CWGC in 2018, when she worked as an intern based at Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium. Her Great-Great Grandfather was killed in action during the First World War and is commemorated at Le Touret Memorial in France. Through learning more about his life and researching the records of his battalion first ignited her interest in the work of the CWGC. 

A personal highlight of Megan’s career was to see the launch of the Noor Inayat-Khan digital exhibition at Runnymede Air Forces Memorial in March 2020. Reflecting on the experience, she said that “it was fantastic to see the young women of the Girlguiding Association so engaged with Noor’s remarkable story and the work she undertook as an SOE agent.” 

Brookwood Military Cemetery: Violette Szabo

Both today and yesterday, the team have been at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. This is the largest CWGC site in the United Kingdom, with over 5,000 Commonwealth and almost 800 graves of other nationalities. The military cemetery was established in 1917, within the broader landscape of Brookwood Cemetery, and was extended for the burial of Second World War service personnel. All branches of service and all six of the CWGC’s member governments are represented at the site; there are also plots of Belgian, Czechoslovakian, French, German, Italian and Polish war graves.

Brookwood Military Cemetery
(image: CWGC)

At Brookwood Military Cemetery, two memorials commemorate Commonwealth service personnel who died during the two World Wars and have no known grave. Among those honoured on the Brookwood 1939-1945 Memorial are special agents who lost their lives whilst operating in enemy territory.

One of the women commemorated on this memorial is Ensign Violette Reine Elizabeth Szabo GC. She was an Anglo-French Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent during the Second World War. On her second mission to occupied France, Szabo was captured by the German army, interrogated, tortured and deported to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp where she was executed in 1945. Her posthumous George Cross citation in the London Gazette, published on 17th December 1946, states: 

‘Madame Szabo volunteered to undertake a particularly dangerous mission in France. She was parachuted into France in April 1944, and undertook the task with enthusiasm. In her execution of the delicate researches entailed, she showed great presence of mind and astuteness. She was twice arrested by the German security authorities, but each time managed to get away. Eventually, however, with other members of her group, she was surrounded by the Gestapo in a house in the south-west of France. Resistance appeared hopeless, but Madame Szabo, seizing a Sten gun and as much ammunition as she could carry, barricaded herself in part of the house, and, exchanging shot for shot with the enemy, killed or wounded several of them. By constant movement she avoided being cornered and fought until she dropped exhausted. She was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously and atrociously tortured, but never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances, or told the enemy anything of value. She was ultimately executed. Madame Szabo gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness.’

Violette Szabo
(image: Imperial War Museum, IWM HU 16541)

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