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Forgotten Voices of the Secret War: An Inside History of Special Operations in the Second World War [Hardcover]

Roderick Bailey
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
RRP: 19.99
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Book Description

1 May 2008 Forgotten Voices

'The Gestapo kept me three days in this interrogation house. They especially wanted to know what I did after my escape, and precise things on the organisation of the SOE. And just for fun I suspect, because I had really not much to tell them, they pulled one of my toenails out...' - Robert Sheppard, SOE agent

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a secret British organisation created early in the Second World War to encourage resistance and carry out sabotage behind enemy lines: in Winston Churchill's famous phrase, to 'set Europe ablaze'.

Drawing on the vast resources of the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive and featuring a mass of previously unpublished personal testimonies, Forgotten Voices of the Secret War is the definitive oral history of a remarkable organisation, showing how in the face of extreme danger and personal risk this select band of men and women helped tilt the conflict in the Allies' favour.

As the Second World War unfolds, we hear the voices of secret agents and HQ staff, of diplomats, aircrew and naval personnel. We learn of parachute drops into enemy territory, of code names and cover stories, of capture and torture by the Gestapo, of nerve-wracking sabotage missions, and of guerrilla fighting alongside groups as varied as the French resistance, partisans in Yugoslavia and tribes in the Burmese jungle. Throughout, lives hang constantly in the balance as seemingly ordinary people summon extraordinary reserves of daring and endurance.

Forgotten Voices of the Secret War is both an incredible account of a unique clandestine force and a fitting testament to the efforts and sacrifices of a dedicated group of courageous men and women.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press; First Edition, First Impression edition (1 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091918502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091918507
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 497,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr Roderick Bailey is a historian of the Second World War and a specialist in the study of Britain's Special Operations Executive. His books include the acclaimed official history of SOE's war on Fascist Italy, 'Target: Italy - The Secret War Against Mussolini,' and, based on his PhD, 'The Wildest Province,' about SOE operations in the Balkans. A graduate of Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities, he is a former Alistair Horne Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford, and has also served in Afghanistan with the British Army. He is currently a Wellcome Trust research fellow in the history of medicine at Oxford University.

Product Description


"Roderick Bailey's assembly of tales deserves a warm welcome, both for readability - there is not a dull page - and for surprise: a great deal of it is unknown to [the] general public" (MRD Foot, official historian of SOE Literary Review)

"a fascinating and at times gruesome and moving read, and is an ideal introduction to the whole subject of the SOE...thoroughly recommended" (BBC Who Do You Think You Are Magazine)

"Roderick Bailey has skilfully braided their stories into a coherent narrative, and the quality of their egregious courage catches at the heart" (Spectator)


`Assembles with great skill a picture of the Special Operations Executive at work behind several fighting fronts... A valuable addition to the history of war.'

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An appreciation from the son of an SOE agent 23 Jun 2008
My father was an SOE agent in the Second World War. I never knew him and had virtually no knowledge of his wartime exploits. This fascinating and carefully constructed book by Roderick Bailey, based as it is on recorded conversations held with SOE agents themselves, brings to life the experiences (from the terrifying to the hilarious) that they, and my father among them, went through. The Forgotten Voices Of The Secret War has enabled me to appreciate his bravery, and be proud of him. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the extraordinairy courage of the men and women who put themselves forward for SOE operations.
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding. Highly recommended. 22 Jun 2008
This superb book of secret agents' recollections is the latest in the Imperial War Museum's magnificent `Forgotten Voices' series, which draws on the museum's vast archive of original interviews with veterans. This edition tells the story of Britain's Special Operations Executive, the secret army set up in 1940 to help resistance and carry out sabotage behind enemy lines. It is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the Second World War.

The book gripped me from start to finish. With skill and balance, Roderick Bailey has selected and structured a powerful collection of eyewitness accounts of extraordinary deeds to take your breath away. Here are stories of hand-to-hand fights with Gestapo agents in French apartments, of guerrilla fighting in the Balkans, of ambushes in the Burmese jungle. Time and again I was astonished at the courage of the young men and women who volunteered for this dangerous duty. And no one could fail to be moved by the testimonies of agents who fell into enemy hands and were sent to concentration camps.

SOE is famous for its agents in France, and `Forgotten Voices of the Secret War' contains plenty of tales from men and women who had worked with resistance there. But as the book also shows, there was much more to SOE than that. Norwegian SOE agents disrupted Hitler's atomic bomb plans. Czech agents assassinated Himmler's deputy. Dozens of Polish agents parachuted back into Poland. Other agents parachuted into the Low Countries, Denmark, Austria, Albania, Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy and fought the Japanese across the Far East. Their stories are told too.

Roderick Bailey has also done SOE a great service by raising the `voices' of instructors and staff officers at headquarters and of RAF aircrew who dropped agents behind the lines.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
I am not a huge fan of the sort of military history books that concentrate on strategy and campaigns without showing what war is really like on a human level. It's the stories people tell that catch the imagination and help us to remember what war was really like for those involved in the fighting. Rod Bailey has searched the Imperial War Museum's archives to uncover and weave together some fascinating narratives from people who operated behind enemy lines all over the world during the Second World War. If you enjoy reading first-hand accounts of adventure and bravery and want to understand the thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in wartime then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Bailey has committed to print some of the most fascinating accounts of SOE activity during the Second World War. I am sure that those who contributed to the book, all who were associated with SOE then and now, their children and families will be proud to see their stories told and added to our history of the war. I look forward to reading more in the series.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
"Forgotten Voices" is a great series of compilations of first-hand accounts from those who were directly involved in various wars and this title on the SOE by Roderick Bailey is one of the best. I found it gripping reading, and at times very moving. Learning about the experiences, thoughts, concerns etc of the very brave men and women who took part - in their own words - is fascinating and I think Bailey has done a great job in selecting the content to create a real tribute to the SOE. If you have an interest in the SOE, 2nd World War, or like me just working your way through the series it's definitely worth a read!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars And Your Point Is? 9 Dec 2009
Some of the names of those testifying in these pages are well-known (George Millar, Francis Cammaerts, Ben Cowburn, Bickham Sweet-Escott) and one or two even world-famous (Odette Sansom --or Churchill--), others almost completely obscure. They held various jobs in that hastily-created and built organization called Special Operations Executive. The more famous people and some of the obscure ones have written or been subjects of memoirs or narratives (inter alia, Horned Pigeon, No Cloak, No Dagger, Maquis, Baker Street Irregular, Odette, etc.

If there is a weakness in this book, it lies in the fact that it is hard for a theme or lineto emerge from so many short narrative pieces, but this difficult task is more or less successfully performed.

This is not the place in which to critique the role or existence of that organization. The book does not, on the whole. Neither does this book give a wholly favorable aspect to its activities; it simply relates in their own words the stories of many who served in the UK and (mostly) overseas, in France, Denmark, Albania, even places like Burma. Some do not shrink from telling of the failings of SOE either on the small scale or in terms of big picture and, while some simply say that their local connections were "splendid fellows" or the like, others are honest enough to note the riff-raff nature of many of the Resistance and Maquis (especially in France) and the cruelties meted out (sometimes by those who never "resisted" anyway) to unfortunate women unable to flee or to defend themselves after the Germans fled France in 1944.

I found the book readable and quite interesting (less so in the Balkans and Far East, reflecting my own greater interest in wartime France and northern Europe generally). Certainly a book for any serious student of S.O.E. history.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten Voices book
A must have. Great book.
Published 2 months ago by Mrs M P Francis
3.0 out of 5 stars Not to expectations!
The many 'Forgotten Voices' books are based upon recorded interviews held within the Imperial War Museum. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Andy_atGC
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Information
My Father was killed in WWII and I wanted more information on his Squadron. I found some more. Thank you.
Published 2 months ago by Helen Rush
5.0 out of 5 stars Another book of merit
Yes certainly another read that gives you the inside stories that we have not been aware of before. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Viza
2.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten book
Its not often that I make a bad choice but this quickly bored me. I love non fiction about the world wars and especially first hand accounts but this seems to be a badly edited... Read more
Published 4 months ago by NJ
4.0 out of 5 stars Behind the lines experiences remembered
A collection of events as remembered by those involved - this book gives remarkable and detailed insights into the day to day activities and experiences of the different SOE... Read more
Published 8 months ago by NigelC
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but a little slow
I like this book as it gives a different perspective of the war. That said, it is a little pedantic and is not organised in the most interesting way i.e. Read more
Published 8 months ago by chris
4.0 out of 5 stars ann Kelly of Kent - Forgotten Voices of the Secret War
-I did enjoy this book but as it was on kindle I didnt realise how long it was. It took me several weeks reading at bedtime.
Published 15 months ago by Mrs. A. P. Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
A must read for all to keep this remarkable chapter in our history alive . Thank you to every member of soe and supporting arms.
Published 19 months ago by Mr Christopher Gunton
2.0 out of 5 stars very boring
Thought that it was just small statements of what they were doing rather than their actul exploits against the enemy
Published 20 months ago by Mr Ken Wood
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