18/4/1883 - 26/4/1944
Violette Morris's story is a not comfortable tale. Indeed some historians have shied away from her completely. Disturbing and bizarre she is never the less worth including if for no other reason than to illustrate the full spectrum of people involved in our sport. Violette Morris died 78 years ago, she was 61
This chap is actually not a chap at all, he or should I say she is Violette Morris, the Gestapo's Hyena
Thus I present to you the story of Violette Morris, a pioneer of women's athletics, feminist, cyclist, singer, dancer, racing driver, and spy.
She was born Violette Paule Emilie Marie Morris in Paris in 1893, the daughter of Baron Pierre Jacques Morris and Elisabeth Marie Antoinette. Her father apparently always wanted a boy (She was the youngest of six sisters) and Violette was as close to a boy as he was going to get. A tomboy from the start, when she was 10 years old, a plumber arrived at the Chateau on a bicycle. She borrowed it and fell in love cycling. However her parents felt that she was rather weak and in need of toughening up so they sent her to be raised at the Convent de l'Assomption de Huy in the countryside. There she discovered both her love of sport in general and of other women. By the age of 15 was competing at the highest level in boxing, swimming, running, weight lifting, discus and javelin. Her motto was "Whatever a man can do, Violette can do!".
Although a lesbian from an early age, she married Cyprien Gouraud on August 22, 1914. With the onset of WWI he left for the front and, with her boxing club converted into a Red Cross station, she served as a nurse during the Battle of the Somme before obtaining her driving license and acting as a motorcycle courier and ambulance driver during the Battle of Verdun. She was demobilised after being taken ill and sent back to Paris.
A militant feminist, she always wore men's clothes, smoked two to three packets of American cigarettes a day and had a tendency to swear a lot. She must have been a quite frightening figure for poor Cyprien who was a keen book collector. The marriage unsurprisingly failed and they divorced in May 1923. Gourand should consider himself lucky as it was widely rumored that she killed her Foreign Legion lover as she had fallen out with him.
She also played football, playing on two different women's teams, Fémina Sports from 1917 until 1919, and for Olympique de Paris from 1920 to 1926. In 1923, she was accused of distributing amphetamines to her teammates, however she was still selected to play for the French Women's National Soccer team and was also selected for the French National Water Polo team, even though this was not a women's team. She was a very good boxer, often fighting against, and defeating men. She won the French National Boxing Championship in 1923.
She also competed in cycling, motorcycle racing, horse riding, tennis, archery, diving, weightlifting, and Greco-Roman wrestling. In 1922, she added motor racing to the list driving a 750cc Benjamin Ruby cyclecar in the Bol d'Or raced on a clay track located between Vaujours, Clichy-sous-Bois and Livry-Gargan a lap distance of 5.126 km (3 miles). She finished a respectable 4th in class. The following year she raced in the Bol d'Or a second time. Now on the Loges track in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, she finished 7th and 3rd in class. She also raced in the III Trofeo Armangue that year. And, though she only came 8th out of the ten finishers, it was a tough event with 10 cars failing to complete the course.
By 1927 her build was getting heavier. She had massive thighs, a muscular neck and huge shoulders and it was not uncommon for her to use her fists during football matches.
Her misdemeanors and indiscretions with her friends in changing rooms began to mount up and so, on the grounds of "wearing trousers, talking indecently and refusing to reform", the Fédération Française Sportive Féminine refused to grant her a license to attend the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam where women were competing in athletic events for the first time.
That year driving a BNC she tackled the Coppa Florio at Saint Brieuc finishing 3rd in class. Then at the Bol d'Or at Fontainebleau she took an outright win at an average speed of 67,480 km/h. She also tackled the Course de Formule Libre de l’ACF taking another win and the Coppa Florio at Saint Brieuc where she finished 3rd in class.
Disappointed at not being able to take part in the 1928 Olympic games, she concentrated on her racing and also opened an accessory shop at the Porte de Champerret in Paris. She then hit the headlines again by having her breasts removed to prevent them getting in the way while racing.
With the depression sweeping Europe in 1929, she was only saved from bankruptcy by the money she received from BNC cyclecars. In early June she participated in the Troisième Journée Féminine de l'Automobile, held at Montlhery. But her racing career had peaked and in 1930, she was even excluded from racing by the Federation of Women's Motorsports. In 1934, she sold her parts store to BNC.
And, after briefly trying a career as a singer, she disappeared off the radar.
It December 1935 she met, Gertrude Hannecker, an ex-racer and journalist from Germany. She was a recruiting agent for the Sicherheitsdienst, the Nazi Security Service and in 1936 she was invited, with honor, to attend the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin at the personal behest of Adolf Hitler. She gave Germany partial plans of the Maginot Line, detailed plans of strategic points within the city of Paris, and schematics of the French army's main tank, the Somua S35.
She benefitted from the German occupation and became a member of the Carlingue. This was officially the public procurement office responsible for collecting the money that France had to pay to Germany and to buy goods from France on behalf of the German state. Actually the Carlingue was a French subsidiary of the Gestapo able to arrest and torture with impunity and with the support of Vichy Government. Like all the members of the Carlingue, she lived very well, residing on a barge moored on the wharf at the Point de Jour in Paris.
She was also given the task of penetrating resistance networks and did not hesitate to use torture, her sadism earning her the nickname of the 'Gestapo's Hyena".
Then on April 26, 1944 the Citroën she was driving from Normandy back to Paris was stopped by 5 members of the Surcouf resistance cell armed with Sten guns. They riddled the car with bullets and she died at the wheel along with 4 other members of the Carlingue. According to legend the bullet that killed her was fired by Philippe Maillard-Brune, who had taken class wins in the Bol d'Or in 1934, 1935 and 1936.
Her body was never claimed and she was buried in a communal grave.