FEAR, terror, excitement -- what must have been going through the head of a young woman from Leyton as she prepared to parachute into occupied France under the cover of moonlight in 1944?

Her landing area, lit with torches in the shape of a T, was just 200ft down, and the plane was sweeping in at more than 150mph.

Less than a month before Marguerite Peggy' Knight had been working as a shorthand-typist for Asea Electric in Walthamstow and living at 88 James Lane, Leyton.

She now faced death as a British secret agent fighting the Nazis during the Second World War.

The 24-year-old was one of an elite group of courageous women who were recruited to Churchill's Special Operations Executive (SOE) and told to "set Europe ablaze".

Despite the fact that Peggy was able to do only one practice jump of the normal three in her shortened training time, her report said she "showed no signs of nervousness in the aircraft".

Fluent in English and French, Peggy was born in Paris on April 19, 1920, to a British father and Polish mother. It was her linguistic skills that caught SOE's attention and in April 1944 training began.

Described as well educated, well above average intelligence, thoughtful, practical and quick, she was considered by her instructors an ideal candidate as a courier.

But with time pressing, her call to arms came despite one instructor's feeling that she needed more training.

"I could accept no responsibility for passing her out as fit for the field," he said.

On May 5, 1944, under the codename Nicole, she was dropped into the night near Marcenay in the Cote d'Or with a radio operator called Noel.

They were met by a "very bad" reception committee, said Peggy, who was forced to hang around the ground for more than an hour as they asked questions and took away cigarettes, chewing gum and even the parachutes before the threat of discovery forced them to the nearest village.

The world Peggy had entered was one of intrigue and suspicion. The underground systems were termed circuits and Peggy's was called Donkeyman.

But her time there was marked by constant feuding. Three of her colleagues were shot as traitors, another survived a bungled assassination attempt by two comrades and her circuit organiser was betrayed.

In this atmosphere Peggy had to use all her instincts to survive and managed to remain undiscovered for six months while sending vital information to the Allies.

Colonel Maurice Buckmaster said of her in June 1945: "A young girl of an altogether exceptional courage and good sense and very marked intelligence.

"She has rendered services of a remarkable nature without regard to the risks she ran.

"Courageous in front of the enemy, she has shown a completely unexpected military sense and has been an inspiration to her comrades."

In December 1944, just a month after her return, she married Sub-Lieutenant Eric Smith of the Royal Navy, who after the war resumed his peacetime job as a River Lea police inspector.

Their first son, Peter, was born in September the following year followed a year later by their second son, David, by which time they had moved to Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire.

Peggy's story was brought to the public attention in 1947 in a Sunday Express article headed Mrs Smith: Train-wrecker, spy and Nazi-killer'.

The article began: "You would not expect that the prim little woman who comes out of the newly built house, 61 Eastfield Road, Waltham Cross, Essex (sic), wheeling her 16-month-old and four-month-old in a second-hand pram...with shopping basket on the handrail, is our trusted and well-beloved Marguerite Diana Frances Smith' who once blazed away with a Sten gun at Germans hunting her down as a secret agent in France."

Peggy was awarded an MBE and the French Croix-de-Guerre for exceptional courage.

l Peggy Knight's story is taken from the book The Women Who Lived For Danger: The Women Agents of SOE in the Second World War, written by Marcus Binney and published in 2002 by Hodder and Stoughton.