After a quiet, rural, Fermanagh childhood, Monica Emily de Wichfeld’s social life was a swirl of superstars and celebrities.

She partied with American actress Tallulah Bankhead, famous for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock's WWII-drama ‘Lifeboat’ and ‘Faithless’, Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s romantic drama about the Great Depression.

Monica played tennis with Sir Winston Churchill’s wife Clementine and had tea with Lord Mountbatten’s wife Edwina.

She was friendly with Noël Coward and fashion and beauty icon Coco Chanel.

Vividly contrasting with the glitz and glamour, she was involved in the 1914 UVF gun running operation in Larne, she spied against the Gestapo during WWII and died in a German POW camp.

Monica Emily de Wichfeld (née Massy-Beresford) was born on 12th July 1894 in London and grew up at St Huberts, a Manor House, now long gone, near Derrylin.

She was the daughter of John George Massy-Beresford and Alice Elizabeth Mulholland, the granddaughter of John Mulholland, the first Baron Dunleath of Ballywalter.

I recently discovered Monica’s amazing life-story on the Irish Emigration Museum’s website where she’s described as “a woman who refused to conform” in a profile by the museum’s Jessica Traynor.

“If Monica de Wichfeld’s life was a movie, it might win one Oscar for costume design, and another for best actress,” Traynor’s gripping narrative continues.

De Wichfield, with her vintage aristocratic background, was part of Europe’s highlife in the 1920s and 1930s, wintering beside the Mediterranean and rubbing shoulders with celebrities.

She dressed in the latest, most expensive clothes and boasted a big estate in Denmark, where she lived with her aristocratic husband, Jørgen Adalbert Wichfeld.

They had three children.

During her own childhood Monica was regarded by her family as something of a rebel - ‘a difficult child’ her daughter recounted when talking in later life about her mother.

Monica was educated at home in Fermanagh and then in France and Germany.

Her hunger for adventure led to her assisting her father, a UVF leader, transporting guns from the SS Clyde Bank during the historic Larne gun-running episode in 1914.

She moved to London during WWI and worked in a military canteen.

Two of her brothers were in the army, and one, Lieutenant John Massy-Beresford, died in action in France in 1918.

In 1916, Monica married Jørgen Adalbert Wichfeld, a Danish aristocrat with a large but failing country estate in Holland.

A shortage of cash, worsened by the stock market crash of 1929, prompted Jørgen and Monica’s move to her mother’s home in Rapallo, Northern Italy.

Then she relocated to Paris and replenished the family bank account launching beauty products and scents (including a perfume for Coco Chanel called Monica 5) and promoting high-fashion jewellery.

With WWII about the break out she moved back to Italy, and a new vocation in espionage.

She began by distributing publications for the Underground but was soon sheltering fugitives and allowing her family property to be used for parachute supply-drops.

Eventually Monica was put in charge of a resistance network and began gathering intelligence about the Nazis and sending it to Britain via the US.

She was expelled from Italy in 1941, and she and her family made the perilous journey to occupied Denmark via Germany, gathering intelligence along the way.

Unimpressed by her fellow aristocrats’ complacency to Nazi occupation, she began to take action, including fundraising for the resistance movement, concealing weapons and explosives, training resistance fighters and persuading the Danish resistance to provide safe-passage for Jewish families.

In 1942, while under torture, a comrade in the resistance revealed her name.

Monica was arrested by the Gestapo, heroically maintaining - “I have joined the struggle for Denmark. I am willing to pay the price.”

She was initially sentenced to death along with 10 other resistance fighters, which provoked an outcry among the Danish people as she was a woman, so she was commuted to life in prison.

Monica, however, refused to accept the sentence unless it was applied to the 10 others who were on trial.

In January 1945 she was taken in a crowded cattle train to Waldheim POW camp in Germany where she developed a severe lung infection and died on 27 February 1945.

It’s not known where she was buried.

Jessica Traynor says that it would be “simplistic to dismiss her brave actions during the Second World War as simple vengeance” for her brother’s death in WWI.

Monica was a complex and intelligent woman who for nine years in the 1920s “conducted a passionate affair with Kurt Reventlow, a Danish aristocrat of German descent who had fought for the Germans in the First World War.”

She was deeply disappointed when Kurt moved to America when WWII broke out, instead of joining the Danish resistance.

Jessica Traynor’s article about Monica is on the Irish Emigration Museum’s website at