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A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE [Kindle Edition]

Sarah Helm
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £10.99
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Book Description

During World War Two the Special Operation Executive’s French Section sent more than 400 agents into Occupied France -- at least 100 never returned and were reported ‘Missing Believed Dead’ after the war. Twelve of these were women who died in German concentration camps -- some were tortured, some were shot, and some died in the gas chambers. Vera Atkins had helped prepare these women for their missions, and when the war was over she went out to Germany to find out what happened to them and the other agents lost behind enemy lines.

But while the woman who carried out this extraordinary mission appeared quintessentially English, she was nothing of the sort. Vera Atkins, who never married, covered her life in mystery so that even her closest family knew almost nothing of her past. In A LIFE IN SECRETS Sarah Helm has stripped away Vera’s many veils and -- with unprecedented access to official and private papers, and the cooperation of Vera’s relatives -- vividly reconstructed an extraordinary life.

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Review

It is a testament to Helm's detective skills that she has marshalled evidence to refute the various suppositions about Atkins, presenting a truth more surprising and more compelling than the numerous fictions constructed about this dedicated, if flawed, intelligence officer (WATERSTONE'S BOOKS QUARTERLY)

What makes the book as fascinating as the best of thrillers is that at every stage we know as much as she does, tracking Vera down clue by clue, contact by contact . . . It makes compulsive reading (Peter Lewis, DAILY MAIL)

She has now written a truly stunning book - quite the best by a non-veteran of secret warfare . . . If any young reader wonders 'why the bunting and the occasional tear (this VE Day, I recommend this book')

John Crossland, SUNDAY TIMES ('Carefully researched and engaging biography')

MAIL ON SUNDAY

‘Sarah Helm reveals a woman whose aloofness obscured an exotic hidden past’

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a tale of courage and chilling horror 19 July 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A Life In Secrets is by far the best book ive read this year...and the most chilling. I couldnt put it down .These lost SOE agents especially the female operatives, my godness , I am haunted by their photos. The author has masterfully written how Vera Atkins ,after the war found out what had happened to the missing agents .. Each being murdered in a most barbaric way by the Nazis. But dying with great courage that takes your breath away.
This great book should become a classic. I salute those patriots who served their country well.Awesome
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65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
There is so much to say about this book. It seems there have been several conspiricies put forward about Vera Atkins, yet this author has dispelled them with excellent research of her own. Vera Atkins was a major player in the SOE (Special Oerative Executives) F (France) section and undertook her own search to find out what had become of her agents. Her boss Buckmaster made some highly damaging decisions, that condemned the lives of many agents, ignoring key information and clues and giving the Germans information that endangered the lives of his agents. Atkins fought against the War office and government to discover the fate of her own people and for the recognition of the women agents who fought as FANY to be recognised as military with the same rights. This book follows the training of the agents, then Veras lone search through the chaotic Allied occupied German and also to the Russian zone. The fate of the female agents was harrowing, all the more so for how the author feeds us the information, in the same way as Vera found it.

There is no doubt that Vera was a phenomenally brave and strong woman but she was always seen as cold. This book deals with much of that and of Veras secret past. Vera's life was surrounded and shrouded in secrets for almost all of it with good reason and the author reminds us of the social and political world and domestic views then which seriously affected Veras life. Even her own family knew virtually nothing about her past and her war work. Vera was awarded for her work but also blamed for it too. Whilst she went out of her way to trace her agents, she also blocked information that could have greatly helped others in the search for their own loved ones.

Many media reviews for this have called it as reading like a thriller.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating account of SOE 21 July 2007
Format:Paperback
Although the book is a biography of Vera Atkins, it focuses - understandably - on her time in F Section of the SOE, and the period she spent tracking down SOE agents who had gone missing or been captured in France post-war. As other reviewers have mentioned, it can be grim reading, but provides an unglamourised glimpse at the running of SOE, and the, sometimes horrendous, mistakes which were made there. It also presents a portrait of a woman who never allowed anyone to really know her, and this leaves both the author and the reader to make guesses about her emotions and her motives. I think this is where the book is at it's weakest, but this isn't the author's fault, and she presents the material available to her in as clear and coherent a manner as possible. I also enjoyed the descriptions of her research when it involved Vera's family and friends, as it provided a more personal, humanising touch which sometimes was lacking in Vera's own relationships with others. I very much enjoyed the book, and found it "un-put-down-able", and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in SOE, the role of women in WW2, or even just wants to read a good biography.
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88 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
My grandfather was Bill Rogers, described in the book as the doyen of the expatriate British community in Bucharest, and I knew Vera very well for 40 years up until her death. I found the book fascinating, particularly on Vera's early life which had been a bit of a mystery to me, but I had to take a lot with a pinch of salt. I tend to agree with reviewer S. Ricks that the author was excessively harsh on Vera and judged her out of context. The Vera I knew had a mind like a steel trap that could pick up any inconsistencies immediately and woe betide anyone who tried to get the better of her. However, she was also an extremely warm and loyal person, as well as vulnerable in certain ways, although it is true that she didn't suffer fools gladly. As S. Ricks states, she was from another era when they believed they had a duty to do whatever they could to protect their way of life from totalitarianism. Of course, Vera felt terrible sending young agents to France and she gave them time to reconsider after explaining to them that there was a strong possibility they would never come back. It was made easy for them to pull out without anyone else ever knowing. On the other hand, we have to take into account that the supply of potential recruits was extremely limited after De Gaulle prevented the British from recruiting French nationals. She talked of her agents often in later years and clearly felt deeply for them as human beings, as well as having a heavy sense of responsibility for those who failed to return which was why she insisted on being allowed to trace them and worked with War Crimes after the war. She once showed me a photograph of the defendants at the war crimes trial sitting like school boys with their headphones on. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An insight to very brave people
A most interesting book about a time and people we will never know only by this kind of book long my there memories live on
Published 15 days ago by stokeieblokee
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure trove of information and secrets revealed
There's so much in this book! Easy to read and compelling in its content, I've thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in its pages. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Wendy Percival
5.0 out of 5 stars A Remarkable Life
Vera Atkins was a remarkable woman and this is her truly remarkable life story. For anyone who is interested in the goings on of the SOE during WWII and what happened to its... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Phoober
4.0 out of 5 stars delivered as advertised
delivered as advertised
Published 1 month ago by andrew pettitt
5.0 out of 5 stars .?
I love this book from start to finished what these agents did for this country they should never be forgotten x x
Published 2 months ago by walker essex ranger
4.0 out of 5 stars Intereting
Interesting book, can recommend it
Published 2 months ago by Gita
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book, great service.
Published 2 months ago by s l hayward
4.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable read, a lot went on in ...
A very enjoyable read , a lot went on in secret during ww2 , this is just a glimpse of it.
Published 2 months ago by Mr NJ Newboult
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
enjoyed immensley
Published 2 months ago by janet
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A1+
Published 2 months ago by Cressida Lewis
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