Top critical review
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on 25 November 2009
The author comes from a family interwined with that most active yet least efficient WW2 organization, the Special Operations Executive. He now writes about a number (ten, I think) women operatives.
The author manages to correct as far as he can some of the misconceptions brought about by hagiographical postwar books and films, notably Carve Her Name With Pride, by R. Minney (this book, I think, wrongly says it was by Jerrard Tickell). Binney points out that (despite her having killed a number of German soldiers while she was in civilian dress and so unprotected by the Geneva Conventions) Violette Szabo was never tortured by her German captors. Despite that attempt to rectify the pseudo-historical record, the author seems to find unexceptional the total fantasy of the reports made by Christina Granville (in reality Krystyna Skarbek, half-Polish, half-Jewish and one of the earliest and most active operatives of SOE in France and elsewhere). She claimed that the Germans had machinegunned up to 10,000 of their own "rebellious" Bavarian troops in 1939-40 Poland. A pack of lies, in reality. She said it would be or was "another Katyn", no doubt believing that that massacre had been carried out by the Wehrmacht or SS, when in fact we now know for absolute certain (thanks to declassified Soviet records) the Soviet NKVD did it...). She also claimed, later, that the Gestapo in France were killing 100 French people daily: another fantasy. In fact, the Gestapo killed few French citizens and, as a matter of further fact, more French citizens were killed in revenge or other attacks by various anti-German riff-raff bands AFTER 1945 than the Germans had killed during the whole of the Occupation.
The author claims that most SOE women were British, but that is probably not so. Of the ten shown here, only one or two were British in any real way: Christina Granville/Skarbek was half Polish and half (Polish) Jewish; Noor Inayat Khan was an Indian Muslim; Violette Szabo was half-French (though a fellow detainee later called her "a Gypsy type"). And so on.
I do feel that the author fails the recognize the shambolic amateurism that characterized SOE and which even MRD Foot, its official historian (SOE In France) noted in his later work SOE In THe Low Countries. He called the boss, Colonel Buckmaster and his colleagues, "amateurs". Amateurs who got their agents killed, more often than not. To take one example from this book, Khan was consistently failed in all her tests as a recruit and recommended for discharge, but Buckmaster just wrote "nonsense!" on her file and off she went to be "martyred", though I cannot regard saboteurs and secret killers (or their support network) as martyrs, really.
A book worth reading but with a little skepticism as to the utility and/or rightness of the activity written about.