Obituary: Emilie Huntly-Grant

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The Independent Culture
EMILIE HUNTLY-GRANT won the DSO after being parachuted behind Japanese lines on increasingly hazardous missions with British intelligence in the closing years of the Second World War.

Her fortitude had first been tested when, as a schoolgirl in her native Austria, she was beaten and tortured by Nazis who tried, unsuccessfully, to force her to reveal the hiding place of her Jewish friends. Almost all her relatives, from pensioners to infants, later perished in the concentration camps. The effects of the brutality stayed with her all her life.

She was recruited as a British agent after several years' voluntary work with the Red Cross in Calcutta, for whom her mother was president. Emilie was trained as a parachutist and radio operator in India and Burma - far removed from her previous duties of helping wounded soldiers regain the use of their limbs.

True to her oath of secrecy, she never revealed much about her war, though she knew she could have written a book. She enjoyed being dropped into south-west China because the girl soldiers with whom she worked were always cheerful. The hardest part of the job, she recalled, was preparing landing sites for Allied aircraft to pick her up. Capture would have guaranteed torture and execution by the Japanese, but she accepted each mission and remained with British intelligence until the end of the war, when she received her DSO. She left India in 1946.

She was born Emilie Sperber in Vienna, where her father Heinz was the Oberbaurat, or head architect, for the Austrian State Railways. Her relations were mainly professionals and intellectuals. Following the German Anschluss in 1938, her mother and father refused to join the Nazi party and her father was dismissed from all his government positions.

Their family home, estate and possessions were all confiscated and they were ordered to leave Austria. Emilie and her mother left in October 1938, but her father was refused permission. He died of a heart attack shortly before he was due to join his family the following May, after accepting a commission from the Indian Finance Ministry. Among Emilie's distinguished relatives who were exterminated were the advocate and judge Hugo Sperber; Otto Bondiner, the writer, poet and editor of Austria's Die Press; and Arthur Kolischet, chief librarian at the University of Vienna.

Emilie was surprised when three captured German officers - in native clothing - were brought to her for interrogation in Calcutta. She never revealed why they had been in India, but one confessed to murdering a young boy in a village. A Gurkha drew his kukri and offered to decapitate the Nazi among the three - one of them refused to speak but kept declaring his Nazi credentials.

In 1946 she married her first husband, Lt Edward Carter, and they went to live in England where she later graduated from Leeds University and Leeds School of Art as a ceramic artist. She wrote a thesis on Aztec art, and one of her ceramic figures was accepted by the Royal Academy, London, for the Summer Show.

They later emigrated to New Zealand, where she and her husband lectured in languages at Christchurch University. Emilie was a fine singer and played a major part in university social life. After four years the marriage failed and she returned to London, where she lived frugally with friends from Vienna and brought up her daughter alone.

She remarried in 1966, to John Huntly-Grant, and they lived in Glasgow, Elgin and, finally, Edinburgh, where she died of a stroke following a short illness. Emilie Huntly-Grant was cheerful, strong-willed and selfless; her bravery throughout times of terrible trauma remains an inspiration.


Emilie Sperber, intelligence agent and ceramic artist: born Vienna 21 August 1921; DSO 1945; married 1946 Edward Carter (one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1966 John Huntly-Grant (one son); died Edinburgh 8 January 1999.