Estimated at £250,000-300,000, the group of posthumous honours awarded to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) secret agent were consigned by her daughter Tania and were knocked down to Michael Naxton, curator of the Lord Ashcroft Collection.
Lord Ashcroft, the life peer and former Conservative Party deputy chairman, has assembled the world's largest collection of Victoria Crosses and George Crosses and the medals will now go on public display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum in London.
The purchase follows Lord Ashcroft's intervention at a Dix Noonan Webb sale in March where the medal group of Les Munro, the last surviving Dambusters pilot, was due to appear at auction with an estimate of £40,000-50,000 in order to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund's upkeep of the Bomber Command Memorial in London. Shortly before the sale, Mr Munro accepted Lord Ashcroft's offer to donate £75,000 to the fund in return for giving his decorations and medals to a museum in the RAF veteran's native New Zealand.
At the latest auction on July 22, the medal group on offer included Szabo's George Cross - one of only four GCs awarded to women* - along with three Second World War campaign medals and the Croix de Guerre that she was awarded by the French for her gallantry. Also included in the same lot was an archive of documents and photographs as well as the original parachute badge which her unsuspecting parents discovered after she had once dropped it and then realised the true nature of her dangerous work.
After the sale, Mr Naxton said: "We are delighted to have acquired all of this for the collection. They will go on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery very shortly."
Tania Szabό, who sold the George Cross and related items to secure their future custodianship and her own financial security, said: "This is a very happy outcome. I am so pleased that all this material relating to Violette will stay in Britain and will be on public display. The many people who will visit the Imperial War Museum in the years to come will be able to see for themselves the story of her heroism."
The auctioneers said the £260,000 price represented an auction record for a GC. The previous high was the £93,600 paid at Dix Noonan Webb in December 2012 for a GC group of three 'Coventry Blitz' medals awarded to Sgt M Gibson of No.9 Bomb Disposal Company, Royal Engineers.
Dix Noonan Webb's auctioneer for the sale David Erskine-Hill said: "We are delighted. This is a fully justified world record price for a George Cross which reflects the extraordinary story and legacy of Violette Szabό."
Violette's exploits as part of the British SOE have been immortalised in books and film. She has been the subject of three biographies and a 1958 film Carve Her Name With Pride starring Virginia McKenna, who attended the auction with Tania Szabό.
Violette was born in Paris in 1921, the daughter of Charles George Bushell, a British First World War veteran, and his French wife Reine. The family moved back to England and in 1940 she met Etienne Szabό, a dashing French Foreign Legionnaire. After a whirlwind romance they married six weeks later.
After he was sent overseas, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service and was posted to an anti-aircraft battery. Released from her ATS duties because she was pregnant, Violette returned to London where Tania was born in June 1942.
In October that year Etienne died of his wounds at El Alamein in North Africa without ever having seen his daughter. Violette decided that she wanted to avenge her husband's death.
Her fluent French and evident courage made her a candidate for the SOE and, after gruelling training, she set off on her first mission to France in April 1944. Her task was to travel alone to Rouen and Le Havre to establish the fate of a resistance group thought to have been infiltrated by the Germans. Over the next fortnight, working under incredibly dangerous conditions, Violette established that 96 members of the resistance had been arrested and gathered valuable information about factories. She was arrested twice but her cover story held.
With typical aplomb she embarked on a shopping spree in Paris before returning to England with both the information and her new clothes - including a dress she had bought for Tania.
On June 8, 1944 - two days after the D-Day landings and Tania's second birthday - she parachuted back into France on another mission. Two days later the car she was travelling in ran into a German roadblock near Limoges. Told to run for it by her companion, she instead conducted a fighting retreat firing her Sten gun. Eventually, wounded, she told him to leave and carried on fighting, with only an apple tree for cover, until she ran out of ammunition and was captured. She spat in the face of an SS officer who offered her a cigarette.
In the months that followed, she underwent terrible torture but remained typically defiant and carved her name on the wall of one prison cell. On one occasion while on a prison train being attacked by Allied aircraft, she crawled along a corridor to fellow prisoners with a jug of water. On another at the Ravensbrück concentration camp she danced and sang 'The Lambeth Walk' to the fury of her SS guards. It was at Ravensbrück that she was murdered by the Germans with a shot to the back of the neck in late January or early February 1945.
Award of Medals
In December 1946 the award of the GC to Violette Szabό was announced and the following month four-year-old Tania, wearing the dress that her mother had purchased in Paris on her first mission, attended a private investiture by George VI at Buckingham Palace. Tania recalled: "I curtsied as I knew so well how to do. And he [the King] leant forward and pinned the George Cross onto my right-hand side, saying that as my mother's representative I must always wear it on my right-hand side.
"After many years of actively supporting the legacy of my gallant mother, I have reached a point in my life where I need to make a difficult decision in respect of the future of her medals. I have no children and therefore the ongoing custodianship of Violette's medals needs to be addressed. Moreover, I have my own future security to consider. Therefore, after examining the options, I decided to place her awards in auction. I do so with some regret but it is a decision derived from much careful thought and I have every confidence that the successful purchaser will cherish - and take great care of - them."
The buyer's premium at Dix Noonan Webb was 20%.
* The George Cross is Britain's highest gallantry award for actions for which purely military honours would not be granted. Although a number of women were given GCs in exchange for their existing gallantry awards when superseded by the GC, only four have received the Cross directly since its inception in 1940.
Three other top-selling George Cross medal groups sold at auction
GC group of three 'Coventry Blitz' medals awarded to Sgt M. Gibson of No.9 Bomb Disposal Company, Royal Engineers - £93,600 at Dix Noonan Webb in December 2012.
GC group awarded to Corp James Scully of the Royal Pioneer Corps who shielded a trapped couple from debris for a whole night after they were trapped during an air raid on Birkenhead, Merseyside, in March 1941 - £72,000 at Dix Noonan Webb in July 2011.
GC group of six medals awarded to Squadron Leader Wilson Hodgson Charlton who defused at least 200 bombs at the height of the Battle of Britain - £58,000 at Bosley's of Marlow in December 2012.