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R K Illingworth (Bristol)

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Forgotten Voices of the Secret War: An Inside History of Special Operations in the Second World War
Forgotten Voices of the Secret War: An Inside History of Special Operations in the Second World War
by Roderick Bailey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

47 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. It is also good to hear from the unsung backroom boffins who invented SOE's specialist weapons, and from the girls of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry who, among a host of important roles, manned SOE radio sets at base.

As this excellent book demonstrates, allowing gallant men and women to tell their own stories in their own words is perhaps the most powerful method of getting across the human experience of war. Highly recommended.

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