THE END

MARGARET “PEGGY” TAYLOR 1920-2006

A temptress and spy, 'almost like the black widow,' she seduced secrets from Nazis in France

CATHY GULLI June 26 2006
THE END

MARGARET “PEGGY” TAYLOR 1920-2006

A temptress and spy, 'almost like the black widow,' she seduced secrets from Nazis in France

CATHY GULLI June 26 2006

MARGARET “PEGGY” TAYLOR 1920-2006

THE END

A temptress and spy, 'almost like the black widow,' she seduced secrets from Nazis in France

Margaret “Peggy” Martha Gertrude Taylor was born on Dec. 5,1920, in the French village of Salles, near Bordeaux. Her father, Herbert Taylor, was an English businessman who owned tracts of forests, and a

cotton gin that produced fabric for shirts for local aristocrats. He married Anne Marie Le Coq, a Scottish woman, and they had another daughter and two sons after Peggy. The family lived well in a grand house with Anne Marie’s mother, a heavy old woman with a

bad heart who would discipline her grandchildren at the dining table with her cane.

During her adolescence, Peggy attended a convent. When the Second World War began, Herbert, who had gone to work in Yorkshire for the British forestry ministry, sent for his family. Anne Marie couldn’t abandon her mother, who was too ill and overweight to escape. So she gave Peggy and her siblings 9,000 francs and put them on the last fishing boat to England. “I said, ‘Bye, bye,

Mommy. See you in three months,’ ”

Peggy told Maclean’s in 1995. They arrived at the Falmouth port five days later, tired and hungry, and slept in an Anglican church using Peggy’s purse as a pillow before Herbert came for them. Months passed, and then, the Swiss Red Cross cabled with the worst possible news:

Anne Marie was in a concentration camp on the German border.

Driven to save their mother,

Peggy enlisted in the Free French forces with her sister in 1942, and

forged papers for her brother William to join the war. (He was underage, and Herbert disapproved, having fought in the First World War with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge.) Peggy trained to become a paratrooper and spy, a position she was perfect for given her knowledge of French language, culture and countryside. Better still, she was beautiful, all legs and red lipstick. “She was a temptress, almost like a black widow, luring people back to her flat after a night out and then, in the morning, taking care of business,” recall her nephews Christophe and Frederick Taylor.

Business, of course, involved seducing avaricious Nazi men for battle information, which she relayed to the French underground, and then doing away with them—either with a cold shoulder, or once, with the revolver she carried in her purse. “I shot the first Gestapo colonel I met,” Peggy told Maclean ’s. “He was

surprised to see me, and BANG! I shot him.” She took the enemy dancing at French nightclubs with plans to shoot them “between the legs” if they became suspicious. Once, Peggy posed as a prostitute and rode a bicycle past Nazis along the Normandy coast, blowing kisses, eavesdropping, and counting tanks. “The information she gathered is believed to have influenced the D-Day date,” says Ed Barlow, sergeant-at-arms of the Royal Canadian Legion’s branch 285. Peggy performed some 22 parachute

jumps into occupied France, looking for recruits, money and secret documents. She jumped wearing a skirt and with her high heels tied on a string around her neck. “She always thought women need to look their best and can do whatever they want,” says Marlene Collins, her caregiver.

For her military achievement, Peggy was awarded numerous honours, including the Croix de Guerre for heroism and the French Resistance medal twice. But she suffered much from the war. She endured chronic pain after breaking her back during a crash. (The story goes that she and a pilot had been drinking and fooling around during a flight and lost control of the plane.) And though she was reunited with her mother in 1944, she agonized over the torture Anne Marie experienced at the concentration camp. Peggy never found long-lasting love, having been engaged five times during the war.

After the war, she sought a “quiet, undistinguished life,” say her nephews. She emigrated to Ottawa in 1955 to be close to her brother Anthony, and became a stenographer for the federal government. Briefly, she lived in Toronto and worked at the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Her own homes were always small, bleak spaces cluttered with military magazines, books, photos and papers. She smoked cigarettes, drank vodka, and ate chocolate with unabashed pleasure. In the mid-1980s, she entered a veterans’ nursing home in Ottawa, before eventually being transferred by her nephews to a Calgary centre.

Every Thursday, after applying red lipstick and Chanel No. perfume, Peggy danced during the “pig and whistle” afternoon social. On Thursday June 8, 2006, Peggy Taylor, 85, died in her bedroom, surrounded by her collection of wartime photos, books,

papers and medals.

CATHY GULLI