His­tory Lonely Courage

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

Rick Stroud (Si­mon & Schus­ter, £20)

In this book, Rick stroud tells the story of the re­mark­able group of women se­cret agents trained by Churchill’s special Op­er­a­tions Ex­ec­u­tive (SOE) to be dropped into oc­cu­pied France as couri­ers and wire­less op­er­a­tors. the aim was to build up re­sis­tance cir­cuits, or­gan­ise parachute drops of arms and am­mu­ni­tion and carry out in­ten­sive sab­o­tage of Ger­man sup­ply con­voys af­ter the D-day land­ings.

It was dan­ger­ous work, es­pe­cially for ra­dio op­er­a­tors such as noor Inayat Khan, as the Ger­mans were skilled at hom­ing in on clan­des­tine broad­casts by a process of tri­an­gu­la­tion, which pin­pointed the build­ings from which they were made.

the book is largely based on sec­ondary sources, rather than the trea­sure trove of SOE doc­u­ments—in­clud­ing all the sur­viv­ing per­sonal files of the agents—re­leased to the na­tional Ar­chives in re­cent years. Its suc­cess lies in weav­ing mul­ti­ple threads into a sin­gle grip­ping chrono­log­i­cal nar­ra­tive, oc­ca­sion­ally em­broi­dered: ‘I have made up the two lines of di­a­logue from Ver­ity,’ reads the au­thor’s note on a clan­des­tine land­ing near the Loire by the soe’s lead­ing Lysander pi­lot.

Mr stroud is, iron­i­cally, bet­ter on the vil­lains than on his hero­ines. First among them was Mathilde Carré, ‘La Chatte’, who be­trayed her Ré­sis­tance com­rades. the SOE was able to lure her to Lon­don on the prom­ise of send­ing her back with a se­nior gen­eral; she spent the rest of the war be­hind bars, a traitor to both sides.

the man who had turned her was the Ab­wehr sergeant hugo Ble­icher, a sly but ef­fec­tive op­er­a­tive, who yielded such re­sults that his su­pe­ri­ors never ob­jected to him styling him­self colonel. Another vil­lain was Robert Alesch, a stocky 36-year-old priest with con­tacts in the French Ré­sisthas ance, who had be­come a Ger­man cit­i­zen and hand­somely paid in­former. the soe’s valiant Amer­i­can re­cruit Vir­ginia hall was highly sus­pi­cious of him, but Lon­don con­sid­ered his in­for­ma­tion first class.

the book is os­ten­si­bly about the 39 women agents dropped into France by the soe’s French sec­tion, run by Col Buck­mas­ter. It con­cen­trates on seven of them, in­clud­ing the in­fin­itely re­source­ful Pol­ish aris­to­crat Krystyna skar­bek, the plucky new Zealan­der nancy Wake and Pearl Cornio­ley, ‘the best shot (male or fe­male) we have yet had,’ as her train­ing re­port noted.

the bru­tal treat­ment and ghastly deaths of noor Inayat Khan, Vi­o­lette sz­abo and the four killed on ar­rival at natzweiler con­cen­tra­tion camp are de­scribed in the grimmest de­tail—most of it al­ready pub­lished—at the ex­pense of ‘the brave and of­ten spec­tac­u­lar ex­ploits of the agents’ praised by Eisen­hower. the gal­lantry and achieve­ments of these women de­serve more space.

that said, Lonely Courage is a com­pelling read, par­tic­u­larly on the Ger­man break-up of the larger Prospect cir­cuit based in Paris. Lessons were learnt and SOE cir­cuits in the prov­inces scored im­pres­sive and heroic suc­cesses. Mar­cus Bin­ney Mar­cus Bin­ney is the au­thor of ‘The Women who Lived for Dan­ger’

Femme fa­tale: fe­male agents were trained in the same skills as the men, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to kill at close quar­ters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.