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Not as good as it should have been
on 31 July 2013
Having read much of the literature on SOE over the last 40 years I was really keen to read this book on Pearl Witherington. Unfortunately it did not live up to the standard I have come to expect over the years from the likes of M.R.D. Foot.
I'm sorry to have to say that this is more akin to a novel than a serious biography although it does give a good basic outline of Pearl's life. Details of how she managed to gather and keep command of such a large Maquis group and also their operations are lacking or skimmed over. Whilst information is needed on other Circuits and their interaction with Pearl's Circuit there are far too many references to other aspects of SOE's war that have no relationship to what Pearl did. One example of this is Giskes's 'Operation Nordpol', the Abwehr operation against SOE's Dutch section; other than the fact that this operation was against SOE and Pearl was in SOE there is no connection, so it rather smacks of 'padding'.
Was it really necessary to include details of her sexual relationship with Henri? Wouldn't it have been better to give more information on her Circuit's operations against the Das Reich SS Panzers which was of far more importance to the outcome of the Battle for Normandy?
Pearl Witherington was an exceptionally brave SOE agent who had no illusions about what would happen to her if she was captured. She was (along with all other SOE agents) treated abominably by de Gaulle at the end of the war by being ordered to leave France within 48 hours. At least she was awarded the Legion d'Honneur. She was feisty enough to tell the British authorities what they could do with their civil MBE - 'there was nothing remotely "civil" about what I did.' She had to wait 60 years for her parachute 'wings' ... utterly deplorable
The Times quote states 'The truth is that Sebastian Faulk's novel...stands on its own, but so does She Landed by Moonlight, the long-awaited biography that Agent Pearl deserves. (The Times)' It's a good read but I feel that there is a much better biography yet to be written ... perhaps in that biography we might find that the authorities had awarded Pearl the Military Cross that she was recommended for, so richly deserved and was refused because she was a woman?