With all of this talk about inspirational women on International Women’s Day I wondered why it was just the women who were taking about the subject!
This is my nomination for the most inspirational woman – before that, first question.. have you heard of her?
Mrs Henrietta Chevalier was a young Maltese widow with six daughters and two sons, one of which was imprisoned as soon as Italy entered the war due to being a British subject. Her other son, Paul was a clerical officer with the Swiss Legation so his diplomatic papers protected his freedom.
Even though she lived in a small third floor apartment in Rome she played a huge role in the Rome Escape Organisation set up by Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty from Killarney throughout the war in providing shelter for escapees.
Mrs Chevalier showed tremendous courage as she constantly took these risks, which if found out would have resulted in execution for her family.
At one point in time she had four British soldiers staying with her and when asked by the Major about the risks here comment was:
“They are absolutely grand, these boys. They are just like my own children. It is all so marvellous”
O’Flaherty warned everyone lodging with her that in the event of any danger, her safety and that of her family had to come first.
Her flat was used as a depot for food and supplies, which was risky as the movement of black bags could easily arouse suspicion.
Eventually the Gestapo suspected the Chevalier household and had it watched around the clock as well as conducting a number of raids but each time the lodgers managed to escape on time due to a system of tip offs. The daughter Gemma, had a very narrow escape on one occasion while buying supplies, which she kept from her mother. (Gemma subsequently married one of the British Serviceman Sands that was sheltered by the family and the wedding was conducted by the Monsignor in Rome.)
Despite the close escapes and the warnings, she always wanted the lodgers back.
Mrs Chevalier, who also had some nursing experience used to venture out and provide medical assistance to various escapees around the city with Milko Scofic, a Yugoslavian.
Mrs Chevalier made everyone feel welcome:
“at Christmas she served brandy instead of tea, Christmas gifts were exchanged among the family and the three British lodgers”
Eventually it was felt that Mrs Chevalier and her family due to the close scrutiny should be evacuated and one by one they left and were brought to a farm on the outskirts of the city.
John Furman recalls of Mrs Chevalier:
“What can be said of this incredible woman, who I guessed to be in her early forties? I would not call her brave for it seemed to be she had no conception of fear. Her kindness and generosity were unparalleled, her maternal spirit and compassion boundless”
Mrs Henrietta Chevalier was awarded a British Empire Medal for her work and bravery.
The stress and strain of the war took its toll on Mrs Chevalier and she suffered from sickness later on in life as a result.
Isn’t she inspirational?