This is a book of the lives of the great and the good, who served in Special Operations Executive and the resistance during World War Two and the material has been taken from their obituaries in The Times. I knew a number of the luminaries who feature in these pages: the section on Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker does little to convey to the reader his charm, affability and steely determination and little of Dick Rubenstein's impish charm and ability as a raconteur becomes apparent in his obituary.
And why? Because many of these obituaries in The Times are pompously stuffy and po-faced; the reasons why these brave men and women were decorated for their gallantry are often described almost dismissively or skirted-over. This is particularly the case when mentioning Rubenstein's award of the Military Cross, as casually as one might remark upon a child receiving a tube of Smarties. The book is noticeable by its omissions; nowhere in the Greek section is there any reference to `The Cretan Runner', George Psychoundakis - and where is the entry for Leo Marks, the head of SOE's code department, of the passionate utterances and the steely handshake? Not in this book, that's for sure. That intrepid secret agent, Xan Fielding who won a DSO in Crete for, as he self-deprecatingly put it, `going into a town' receives the briefest of brief mentions. Perhaps they didn't merit an obituary in The Times; and if so, that's that newspaper's loss.
Michael Tillotson has edited the book - hardly the most onerous of tasks - and although it would be suitable for anyone carrying out pure research, it really is as dull as ditchwater. The Daily Telegraph's various books of obituaries are far, far better. What could have - and should have - been an enthralling read, isn't.