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Moondrop to Gascony Paperback – 1 Nov 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Moho Books (1 Nov. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0955720818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0955720819
  • Product Dimensions: 15.8 x 2.3 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 330,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"One of the outstanding surveys of the real life of a secret agent."
--Professor M R D Foot (from the Foreword of Moondrop to Gascony).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"Come on, Minou, make yourself comfortable," Jean-Claude said. "If you want to sleep, just lean on my shoulder."

As long as he wasn't bored, Jean-Claude was satisfied with everything. Just quietly satisfied. But when he got bored, he sat silently with a vacant look on his face and refused to submit to the most elementary forms of human civility.

Trying to argue with Jean-Claude was like attempting to crash head-first through a rubber wall: you bounced right back. This was one of those numerous occasions when he was contented with the impossible: he asked me to make myself comfortable. And without the smallest trace of irony, either. Minou was the nickname he liked giving me.

And all this time, I was tied up like a Christmas parcel in the tight harness of a heavy parachute, sitting on two inches of seat (because that was all the cumbersome parcel on my back allowed me to reach) in the side of a Halifax bomber. I was suffocated by the heat and deafened by the roar of the engines. I simply gave up arguing and gave up Jean-Claude, settled against his shoulder and went to sleep.

I woke up an hour later: Jean-Claude had also fallen asleep and slipped against my arm. His long eyelashes cast childish shadows on his cheeks. The engines still rumbled with a monotonous roar; the noise had become part of me. It caught hold of my head and shoulders and my blood seemed to run rhythmically along my veins. I wondered how the crew managed to keep awake. I looked round and saw the despatcher busily engaged in tightening the straps round the six bundles due to be dropped with us. I shifted Jean-Claude gently and settled him against a bundle of RAF coats: he never stirred. I joined the despatcher just as he was opening the trap.

"What are you doing?" I yelled through the deafening row.

"Leaflets..," he yelled back, pointing to a dozen square parcels on the edge of the hole and turning up the collar of his fur jacket.

The cold wind whistled inside the aircraft. The despatcher cut the strings round the parcels and chucked them out with precise and rapid movements. They hit the slip-stream with a crack. I tightened the scarf around my neck and leaned over the hole. Down below, I could see a city: it looked like a beehive. It also looked very small. The blocks of houses, the straight roads and avenues, the squares and, outside, the neat cutting-out of the land, conveyed a strong impression of design and order.

"Caen..," the sergeant shouted again, in answer to the mute question of my raised eyebrows.

Small puffs of clouds ran past under us in short bursts, hiding the city at broken intervals. In between them I could see black shadows sweeping rapidly across the beehive: heavy clouds were passing in front of the moon.
The weather was not improving as we flew further south; it was already poor when we had left England. After all the leaflets had gone, the despatcher started throwing out little cylindrical boxes with tiny parachutes packed on top of them. They whistled as they hit the slip-stream.

"They're pigeons," the sergeant explained after he had closed the trap again. "There's a questionnaire from the BBC in the box with them. The idea is that people answer the questions and let the pigeons fly back home with them. Pretty simple - but I bet half the folks down there eat them. I'm sure I would," he added, with a wink.

Pretty simple, indeed. I wondered how many simple things went on like that that no one knew about. All along, I had ached to keep some sort of a diary of all my activities and new sensations; but that was strictly forbidden, for obvious reasons of security. Now, as I sat down near Jean-Claude again, I wondered how long I would remember my emotions. Maybe I could write them down some day, but what day and when? The past months were very clear and very much of a whole in my memory, although, as soon as we had taken off, their disagreeable moments had receded into a distant unconsciousness.

Could it really be only six months ago that I had had my first interview?

"Do you speak French?" a short and jumpy Captain had asked. His voice was high-pitched and piercing. I had found his cold and bare office after losing myself several times in a labyrinth of corridors inside a large and nondescript block of flats.

"How is it that you speak French so fluently?"

I had explained that I had a French mother and had always lived on the Continent and been brought up like a French girl.

"Are you ready to leave England? Are you ready to do anything we may ask you against the enemy? Can you ride a bicycle?"

I had said yes to everything, although I had no idea what he was getting at.

Three weeks later I had understood, as I began my courses in various super-secret `schools'; hair-raising cross-examinations, tough soldier's training. If anyone had told me that I would spend the summer of 1943 being timed at assault courses, tapping Morse messages on a dummy key, shooting at moving pieces of cardboard, crawling across the countryside and blowing up mock targets, I would have shrugged my shoulders with disbelief.


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Simon Mawer on 29 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful book, fully deserving both of the prize it won in 1947 and of this reissue. Writing with an elegant, light touch, Anne-Marie Walters gives one of the first and most candid accounts of the clandestine life of an SOE agent in occupied France during the Second World War. A mere twenty when she was parachuted into the South West to join the WHEELWRIGHT circuit, she was only twenty-three when the book was first published in 1946, yet throughout her narrative she tempers a young woman's élan and brilliance with a mature, objective honesty. The editor of this new edition, David Hewson, demonstrates exactly how accurate the author's account is by giving details of the real people hidden behind the pseudonyms of the original publication, as well as some useful contemporary photographs. In a postscript he outlines Walters' life after the war and also attempts to address the issue of exactly why, in August 1944, she was ordered back to Britain as 'undisciplined' by the head of her circuit, Lt. Col. George Starr. Motives in the whole affair seem very mixed. Politics definitely come into it, along with accusations of sexual misconduct, but now that the principal actors in this little wartime drama are all dead we will probably never know the full truth. What is certain is that the ebullience and courage of Anne-Marie Walters and of her fellow résistants will live on for many years yet in the pages of this marvellous memoir.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By E. Woolley on 30 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Some years ago I managed to obtain a second-hand copy of this book which I reckoned to be one of the classics of French resistance literature. It not only gives a graphic and authentic account of what it was like to be working with the resistance but also brilliant portraits of the author and the principal people she worked with. The tension at certain points equals or surpasses that of the best writers of thrillers. Now David Hewson has produced an annotated edition which fills in the gaps which the first edition, of neccesity, left unanswered together with a background of Anne-Marie Walters life. She was a most remarkable woman. I hope that new edition will introduce her to a new generation of readers.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. D. Greenway on 21 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is of particular interest to me & my wife as the story is set in & around the area of South West France where we have lived & worked for the past 14 years. Obviously, knowing the names of towns & hamlets & the location of some of the individual houses mentioned is particularly fascinating for us, but for the reader with no knowledge of this area the fascination should lie in the way the system of espionage & guerilla warfare worked amongst local groups throughout occupied France during WW2.
The book describes & shows very accurately the difficulties which had to be overcome on a daily basis & how, often how tenuous the links were between sub groups & equally how often there were quite fierce rivalries & jealouses that often combined to reek havoc with some of the planned operations. It also gives an insight & understanding of the logistical problems involved & the added complications for the brave people who housed & fed especially agents parachuted in from England. It may not be appreciated by the average reader that the Gers department which is the area of activity described within this book is the second largest department in France & when the authoress, Anne-Marie Walters describes some of her cycle rides in her role as a courrier undertaken on an ancient heavy framed bicycle were over distances of up to 80 + kms which if undertaken from north to south could be on relatively flat terrain, journeys from East to West would entail some gruelling hill work largely on unmetalled roads & imagine this if the weather was foul & there were undoubtdedly time constraints on most of her trips. In short, if military history is your interest this will give a good insight into the workings & operations of a patriot group in wartime France. A no frills honest reporting of actual facts by a lady who lived through it all.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By P. Overton on 21 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
This is one young woman's gripping, personal account of her role as an S.O.E. agent in wartime France. Anne-Marie Walters was a courier with the Resistance in the southwest of the country, where she felt more at home than in England.

Though written shortly after the war's end, it is a wonderfully fresh read; sparkling with humour and humanity in the most extreme of circumstances. Anne-Marie's courage, coolness, and energy burst from every page.

The story has been brought up-to-date by David Hewson's biographical investigations. Individuals, only referred to by code names in the book, have their identities revealed, and we learn the fate of the main characters.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By "nic65" on 22 Oct. 2005
Format: Unknown Binding
I bought this book as it was written about the area in France I now live. It's a beautifully written account without any romancing of the subject; the experience of a twenty-year-old woman parachuted into occupied France. It has left left wanting to know more about her and her whole life.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mr. K. C. Johns on 9 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not going to write a synopsis for this book - it has to be read! Based on actual events during WW2 it isn't so much about the fighting as many books of this genre. Instead it details the bravery of British SOE's and the French resistance and their struggle to help bring the war to a quick conclusion. It is beautifully written and full of necessary, but not long winded and boring, descriptions of the area, their problems, and the interaction between the groups of resistors and the British SOE's. An easy book to read making it very difficult to put down.
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