Martha Cnockaert was born in Westrozebeke on October 27th, 1892. When the war broke out, 22-year old Martha volunteered as a nurse in the convent of Westrozebeke, where she attended to wounded soldiers. When Westrozebeke was evacuated in late January 1915, Martha Cnockaert relocated her nursing activities to the Klein Seminarie in Roeselare.
A few days after her arrival in Roeselare, she was approached by a member of the British Secret Services and became a spy. Her code name was Laura. Martha passed information on German activities in Roeselare to the Allies. Furthermore, she was involved in several acts of sabotage, such as the detonation of a German ammunition depot in Roeselare.
In November 1916, Martha was arrested and detained in Ghent. Near the end of the war, she was released from her cell by British troops.
When the war was over, Martha moved to Antwerp, where she met her husband John McKenna, a British captain. In 1932, she published her autobiographical book 'I Was a Spy’, an account of her experiences as a spy in World War I. The book became a bestseller in several languages and was adapted for the big screen twice.
The success of her story turned Martha Knockaert into a famous heroine of World War I. However, a great number of sceptics question the truthfulness of her account, claiming that she made up the greater part of her story to obtain attention, money and fame.