Imperial War Museum North puts a gun with a colourful past on display, and sheds light on the role of women in World War Two
The Walther PPK pistol about to go on display at Salford Quays is much more than a weapon of war. The Second World War pistol was used as a bargaining chip in the frantic days leading up to the liberation of the Nazi Concentration camps, and sheds light on the remarkable story of a brave young mother who risked her life as a spy in the Special Operations Executive, surviving capture and years of imprisonment and torture by the Gestapo.
Odette Hallowes was that woman, and the gun in question was used by her concentration camp commandant to try and bargain his way to freedom (he mistakenly believed she was related to Winston Churchill). The gun is the subject of Imperial War Museum North’s In the Spotlight show, and part of its programme to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.
Hallowes recalled the events in an interview back in 1986: ‘The first night of my release was unforgettable,’ she said. ‘It was a glorious night, full of stars and very cold. The Americans wanted to find me a bed for the night but I preferred to sit in the car. It was so long since I had seen the night sky.’
Visitors can hear excerpts from this interview at the display, and learn more about what it was like to be a female spy in the SOE. A related exhibition, Captured: The Extraordinary Life of Prisoners of War, uses similarly unique objects to tell the stories of other captives all over the world, from a secret radio receiver to a bedsheet scrawled with code.
Hallowes’ story is also being dramatised in the museum’s What a Performance sessions for family audiences in October. A raft of spy-related activities are on offer at the museum over half term, where young secret agents can learn how to make memory games, periscopes and code wheels.
A Secret Life: Odette Hallowes and the Nazi Pistol, 24 October 2009 – October 2010, Imperial War Museum North.