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Benjamin Hall "SOE Reader" (Cheltenham UK)

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Castle Commando
Castle Commando
by Donald Gilchrist
Edition: Paperback

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Recollections, 12 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Castle Commando (Paperback)
This paperback book reprinted in 1993 for the Lochaber District Council contains the personal reminiscences of the author Donald Gilchrist, originally published in 1960.

In my view the author is very well placed to write this book given his early Commando training at Achnacarry and personal interactions with key figures such as Vaughan (who he clearly respected and admired) and Lovat.

The book dedication itself is quite moving and clearly means more than the words actually say.

As a work of personal first hand reflection, it is entirely in keeping that there should not be a bibliography or references, however an index, chapter headings and a contents list could help guide the reader in my view.

That said, this is a very readable piece of work and comes across so clearly that it could easily be a transcript from a conversation or interview over a few G&T's, which is to the author's credit given the range of memories that are recounted.

His recollection of leading Commandos into an action as part of the raid on Dieppe whilst his trousers fell down show a more humorous side to very serious business and that no matter how well rehearsed one might be, the unexpected can get in the way.

Black and white images of Commando training at Achnacarry are grouped in the middle section of this book and provide the reader with an idea of the very dangerous nature of Commando training given that the use of masses of live ammunition and ordnance was an everyday occurrence to simulate as near battlefield conditions as possible.

Recollections of the seriousness of Commando training is interspersed with that military humour that can only be written first hand and so funny it couldn't be made up!

The enthusiasm in shooting a Deer to boost rations, compared to the confusion as to how to get it back to Achnacarry is one example, as is the US Ranger shot in the backside who didn't take the use of live rounds and grenades being used in the `opposed landing' exercise seriously enough being another.

The "Salmon incident" is hilarious as is the reaction of then Locheil and Vaughan!

The unexpected actions of characters attracted to Commando life from the eccentric (e.g. a senior officer camping out on the golf course of a Hotel following a dispute with the manager) to the unhinged (e.g. a French Naval officer who was very free with his Machete waving) are contained in Gilchrist's recollections which made for easier reading and caused me to laugh out loud more than once.

The exchange between a senior officer and Commandos under fire in trenches over the provision of hot meals is typical of military actions and resulting humour - priceless!

Whilst this book contained examples of the lighter side of Commando training it also contains descriptions of the very serious nature of Commando life, such as the first hand killing of German soldiers and Commandos who died in both training and on deployment, however the author is to be commended on reaching what was for me a fine balance between the two.

For me this book represents excellent value for money, given the first hand insight it provides into the mindset of Commando training and a lifestyle these extraordinary men volunteered to enter into, often requiring the resignation of rank and commissions to enter (a practice very much appreciated by Commandos then and much missed by others today).

This was a pleasure to read and at times became difficult to leave alone for long and yes, I would recommend it others, especially anyone thinking of undertaking Commando training with the Royal Marines as this provides the underpinning knowledge that explains `why' so much of current training exists and who to `blame' for the Tarzan course and that regain tank on the bottom field!


The Cooler
The Cooler
by George Markstein
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting mix of fact and fiction, 12 Nov. 2009
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This review is from: The Cooler (Hardcover)
This hardback book first published in 1974 (and not reprinted since to my knowledge) is a fictional `thriller' based on real persons such as the instructor in `Silent Killing' E.A.Sykes (Sadler) and locations such as Inverlair (Inverloch) which blurs fact from fiction quite cleverly.

Understandably as a work of fiction there are no images, index or contents list and what references there could be are left to the reader to interpret by placing the fictional person's name or location against the public record of real persons and the real name of locations on which the fiction is based.

This in itself was an interesting exercise.

It was not a complete surprise then to discover that Markstein has a background of fictional writing within the field of espionage and unconventional activities including `Dangerman' and the `Odessa File' both arguably classic examples of this genre.

The flawed character of the two main S.O.E. agents (Loach and Gilbert) exampled for me that S.O.E. agents were not some sort of superhuman but ordinary people who were either flawed at the time of recruitment and yet achieved extraordinary outcomes or for one reason or another didn't cope with the training or experiences well at a time when others did.

On a note of personal interest the chapter relating to Sadler has all the clear hallmarks of the description of E.A. Sykes who at the time within which this book is set was working separate from Fairbairn (since April 1942) and was a travelling supervisor/instructor in `Silent Killing' before his illness and subsequent requirement from Colonel Young to attend a medical board in May 1944.

Understandably the description of Inverloch varies from that of the real "Cooler" such as the description of a vast estate covering miles of land and yet contains traces of accuracy such as the remoteness of the location, the bridge over the river and bars on the "cooler" itself.

The description of wartime Britain and in particular one person's interpretation of how the contents of an agent's breakfast suggested the events of that day were amusing until the same reference (to eggs) cropped up in Donald Gilchrist's "Castle Commando" suggesting either some unintended accuracy or a wartime urban myth.

The carefully laid descriptions of the agents and counter agent (Grau/Harris) appeared to me to be well paced and considered which may account for why the concluding chapters felt somewhat rushed resulting in the final descriptions feeling somewhat lacking in detail.

The post conclusion account by "Deception" of his manipulation of two agents made for interesting reading which I suspect may be reflective of other work and based as much on fact as fiction which is again entirely in keeping with the tone of this work.

Whether this book represents value for money would in my view be dependent on the motivations of reader and whilst fiction is not normally an area I would enter into, I was surprised how easy this book was to read and toward the end how well the groundwork in earlier chapters had been laid toward the concluding actions.

That said, for me this was an interesting distraction but regrettably not an unforgettable read and I probably wouldn't be looking to read this again which I am sure says more about me as a reader than the work itself.


No Title Available

4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read, 6 Sept. 2009
"Shooting to live with one hand gun" published in 1942 and reprinted in 1987 could be regarded as one of the cornerstone publications on close quarter `combat shooting."

Leaving aside the illustrations (Schwabe/Leitao) this is a collaboration between two experienced Shanghai police officers who served within the International settlement area from early 1900's to late 1930's, William Ewart Fairbairn (a former full time officer) and Erick Anthony Sykes (a former volunteer reserve officer).

Being closely involved in sniper and riot unit deployments, both officers had considerable experience of various drug raids, gambling raids, shoot outs and armed interactions with criminals who shot first and thought second.

Regardless, it is not surprisingly then that during this time Shanghai was commonly described as "the most dangerous city in the world" based as it was on an often blatantly open trade in both opium and prostitution and regular incidents of kidnapping, extortion and the associated range of violent criminalities in between.

It is difficult to consider a more appropriate background from which such a publication on close quarter pistol shooting could have been produced.

This book is aimed at both private citizens who, for various reasons in the 1940's, found themselves carrying a pistol and military/police personnel who would be looking for advice on training an armed unit.

The sections relating to the formalised selection of officers suitable for carrying firearms, the required pass levels, ammunition rotation/calculations and `mystery' shoots are much more detailed than one might expect for the needs of a private citizen.

Given the background of the authors, this is entirely understandable.

The historical background for various current armed training practices could be for some readers particularly interesting for example, the reasons for a 50% success rate in discharged shots at various distances (still maintained by some and abandoned by others) the background to what is widely described as the "double tap" and why so many training shoots take place at such short distances.

Interestingly the authors did not encourage the repetitive shooting at static targets from various distances, unless the aim of the practice was to become a skilled static target shooter!

The avoidance of grades and awards such as marksman was unexpected especially when one considers the wide use of similar grades today which appeared to fit well with the lack of punishments in favour of reporting aimed at improving performance.

The reasoning is not made clear however it appears reasonable that the authors were more concerned with a proven ability in `near field' conditions as opposed to an ability in shooting in `sterile' conditions based on punishments perhaps proving the title that this book is shooting ..."to live."

Whilst this is undoubtedly a work of fact based as it is on the author's "extensive records" of actual armed incidents, it does not sit well in one specific camp of historical interest (military/police) other than "armed training" which is probably reflective of the need for paramilitary policing at the time in which it was written despite paramilitary policing still being used in certain theatres of activity today.

It was refreshing to read that the authors were able to draw on extensive first hand records of actual armed incidents and draw from this dataset the relevant analysis and conclusions as to the effectiveness (although at times described as preferences) of certain ammunition and firearms.

That said, the methodology described in the analysis of this dataset (whilst creditable) is very limited which raised a question as to the potential influence of Sykes' experience whilst working for the Remington Arms Company.

Either way that fact that processes were in place and efforts were being taken to learn from actual incidents is particularly worthy of comment particularly when it is considered than many of the officers under the command of Fairbairn & Sykes had served during the 1914 - 1918 war and taken part in various actions resulting in the horrendous (and often questionable) loss of life.

Several examples of experiential learning are described within this work such as crouching when approaching a target house, the alleyway to which later revealed wire stretched across at neck height and training in low light shooting to reflect actual conditions in which such shooting was likely to take place.

Whilst this work contains numerous references to first hand experiences and actions witnessed, it was disappointing that there was so little detail contained in the reference to the inventive Doctor and the Martin Brothers in San Diego, which prompted the question "when did that happen and who was that Doctor?"

The reference to the "mystery shoots" (in my view at least) could easily have warranted a publication in its own right given as it is an early 20th century description of what is widely referred to today as either "killing house" or "shoot don't shoot" training.

It is unlikely that many of the tactics described in this training would be permitted in today's climate of engineering out any risk, given that one tactic described involved an armed man stepping onto a floorboard intended to give way immediately - I can see the Health and Safety Executive coughing up a lung on that one alone!

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the tactics used to train military/armed police units in close quarter shooting from a historical context and how these have influenced tactics today.

This is a welcome addition to my collection and I would read this book again having already returned to several passages more than once.

I have found several items within it particularly interesting which has lead to further reading.


"HMS Tarana": Under Two Flags
"HMS Tarana": Under Two Flags
by Ronald Bruce Stephens
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Reading, 10 Aug. 2009
"HMS TARANA - under two flags" describes the compelling personal memoirs of the last surviving seaman (Ronald B Stephens) to serve aboard this ship during clandestine operations for the S.O.E. in the Mediterranean and other duties until mid 1945.

These memoirs are written in the first person and told with such lucidity that these events could easily have taken place yesterday, whilst (what is in my opinion) the overuse of the term "for" could become a barrier to some readers, the varied incidents and details recounted throughout this book are incredible and more than carry the story along nicely.

This book does not pretend to be a massively researched reference book nor (it is respectfully suggested) is it destined to be a cornerstone work on the subject of seaborne operations of the S.O.E. however, the firsthand experiences of Stephens goes a long way to providing background information on various sections of World War II.

Descriptions of initial training; selection and duties guide the reader through the early days of deployment through the Bay of Biscay with the resultant monster sea swells (which one sailor washed overboard would thank his lucky stars for, for the rest of his life when the same sea swell threw him back on board!) through war time deployment to North Africa and then the final journey home and decommission.

There is however no mention of these duties being voluntary despite a description of notices being posted and volunteers being sought, although the sage advice of an `old sea dog' "never volunteer for anything" is.

This resulted in the question being raised `was Stephens ordered to be deployed in civilian clothing of a neutral country (with the very real possibility of being shot as a spy if discovered) or was that section overlooked?'

Everyday life aboard this "Q" ship and the early delivery/collection of "parcels" is described in varying detail but that individual crew member names are prominent suggest that these duties created a bond between the crew which has lasted, even if only now in memory.

The recollections of rowing to and from occupied France to deliver and collect "parcels" (agents and escaping serviceman) makes for incredible reading and the apprehension felt by everyone during this part of the mission comes screaming out of the pages between each line.

Some agents are named and others merely referred to, as one might expect given the nature of the missions, which is entirely in keeping with the tone of book.

The sensitive handling of some agents/escapers clearly traumatized by their experiences in occupied France demonstrates a different image to that of the sea bitten Jack Tars seen in some war time movies of the day.

The recollection of how the crew helped a very sea sick and very traumatised woman and her son is very moving, as is the recollection of her thanks!

The various photographs aboard HMS TARANA show the crew at happier times going about their usual business, washing clearing the decks etc but also include a photograph of Ronald Stephens being awarded his Croix De Guerre.

Whilst it is inferred, the specific reason why Ronald Stephens was awarded this medal and not other crew members who went ashore into occupied France is not fully explained and is left to the interpretation of the reader.

Whether this is as a result of modesty or an oversight is not clear, however the elation felt on behalf of Stephens' and his crewmates is made very clear and quite rightly so in my view.

The recollections of everyday life such as receiving up to forty letters in one delivery and the crew sorting them into date order to read them is an example of the attention to detail/recollection within this book, which is aptly demonstrated by the incident involving an over critical officer who handled a seaman receiving bad news concerning his daughter in the worse possible manner.

The incident with a cockroach the size of a dinner plate and the resultant swimming lessons gives an insight into the slightly more lighter moments, as does the description of a German P.O.W. being `permitted' to take his revenge after a cowardly assault by a French Civilian.

It was interesting to note the reference to the Americans in the same manner as John Keneally's book "The Honour and the Shame" only this time in a slightly different phrase, "...when the British come - the Germans duck, when the Germans come - The British duck, when the Americans come - everybody ducks!..." (page 126)

Leaving aside the font which gives the impression that this book is printed in bold, it is perhaps understandable that one wouldn't expect an index or list of references, being as it is a work of personal reflection, however the lack of a contents page or chapter headings beyond "Chapter One" etc gave the impression (rightly or wrongly) that his book was not particularly well formatted into coherent sections.

This could explain why, whilst this book is marketed on its connections to the S.O.E. significant portions of this book recount more mundane operations such as freight handling/ troop movements and shore leave (although the incident with the Jeep and the American crane was funny!)

Whilst only detailed analysis would settle the issue, as a rough `guesstimate' it could be argued that the references to S.O.E. (as valid and interesting as they are) contribute some 30% - 40% of the contents, whilst the remaining content relates to other matters, which may not necessarily be an issue for many readers.

Leaving that aside, this is a compelling read into this area of World War II as seen through the eyes of an everyday sailor, who felt that he earned his pay each day and for that there can be no criticism.

This book will sit well in my collection and I have taken various details described within it to form the basis of further reading and it that sense this book has done exactly what it was intended to do.

I would have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone with an interest in how the everyday sailor saw this part of wartime activities; however I would caution that this book is not solely concerned with S.O.E.


Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai
Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai
by Robert Bickers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class research, 29 July 2009
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This book is a fantastically detailed piece of factual historical research, which uses the life and times of one Maurice Tinkler as a vehicle to describe life in and around the International settlement of Shanghai in the early to middle 1900s from the perspective of a Shanghai Police Officer.

This is more than an autobiography of one man molded by his experiences in service of the British Empire, some aspects of which are sad such as his lost love who clearly never really forgot him and the harsher side of colonial living such as Tinkler's overtly racist attitude to the Chinese and his disdain for the Sikh and Chinese Police Officers.

The references provided with this book are quite exemplary to the point of creating a book within a book, many references indicting other possible routes of research and interest, giving the impression (to me at least) that this work could easily have been an edited down version of a Masters or Doctoral thesis.

Given the author's background and the nature of the funding for this research, the academic style of writing is entirely forgivable, given as it does to maintaining the flow of reading but it clearly leans heavily away from being a quick read.

Rightly or wrongly however, I felt that at times that some information could have been added as much because there was a reference available to support it, as to the support it gave the issue being discussed, which at times prompted the question `where are we going with this'?

That said, this is a remarkable piece of work given the depth and breadth of detail and supporting information it contains which quite rightly contributed to this book being awarded the first Institute of Historical Research prize in 2000.

As a side note and not necessarily a criticism, there appears to be more references to various topics within the text itself than included in the index, (Fairbairn & Sykes being examples) whether this is replicated in other areas in unclear.

I found this book to be both completely engrossing and yet at times hard going as we meandered into side issues which may say more about me as a reader than Mr. Bickers as a writer.

I would consider this work to be essential reading for anyone with an interest in the day to day workings of the Shanghai Municipal Police and Colonial Police life in general, especially when the settlement was taken over by the occupying Japanese forces and the obvious conflict in interests this caused the officers.

The `off-hand' manner in which the British Government is reputed to have treated these officers after their release from internment is a book in its own right, however what is said makes interesting reading.

The concluding `Acknowledgements' section demonstrates that whilst Mr. Bickers quite correctly has his name on the front page, there are (as in any work of this nature) an extensive array of others without whom such work either could not be produced or would have resulted in this work looking and feeling entirely different.

Very seldom have I seen an author be so genuine and humble in this thanks to so many, which I consider to be to Mr. Bickers credit.

In my view this is an incredible work that deserves to be priced higher than it is but then what price knowledge and everyone likes a bargain.


50 Years of Silence: The Extraordinary Memoir of a War Rape Survivor
50 Years of Silence: The Extraordinary Memoir of a War Rape Survivor
by Jan Ruff-O'Herne
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An incredible account by a very strong woman, 24 July 2009
There are no "comfort women" there are however, victims.

This book is the first hand account of Jan Ruff-O'Herne growing up and living in the Dutch East Indies during World War II, written whilst in her late 60's / early 70's.

In my view at least, given the horrific nature of the contents, this is such an easy going piece of work as to raise in the reader an image of the writer talking the written words in an almost dispassionate way over a cup of tea.

It is difficult to attribute this to the writer's religiously inspired calmness or the various symptoms that accompany Rape Trauma Syndrome and / or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, however this calmness is worthy of note in this review.

Whether this helps or hinders the narrative is a question for each reader, however I was relieved ( somewhat selfishly I admit ) that the descriptions of her forced prostitution and continual rape were not described in more detail than was necessary for her account of this horrendous practice.

Whilst this book will not ( in all probability ) be included in a required reading list for a historical study of war in the Dutch East Indies, the seeming innocence that comes out from the words on each page does provide a very personal perspective on the human cost in the events that took place.

Everyday camp life and the grinding day to day oppression by the Japanese is described in sufficient detail to paint a truly gruesome image without over emphasising the point that friends and co-detainees were treated with such distain as to their plight and with an indifference as to whether women and children lived or died.

Selection and life in the "House of the Seven Seas" officer's brothel shows the callous and dismissive nature of a people indoctrinated in believing others were beneath them who could be treated similar to cattle suggesting agreement with the view that some have made that rape is not about sex but about power!

The contradictions in the Japanese attitudes are evident in the description of the repeated rape committed by Japanese officers who bought tickets which `entitled' them to a girl of their choice and yet when a guard tried to rape one of these victims on her return to a prison camp, he was forced to commit suicide!

I was struck by the depth of the author's religious convictions, a conviction that seems to have carried her ( and her co-victims ) through these awful ordeals and beyond.

The response of the Catholic priest when the author was able to recount her story following the liberation of the camps, evidences ( for me anyway ) why so many turn away from the Catholic church.
I suspect that his response `robbed' the sisterhood of a potentially fantastic nun and it is clear to me at least, that he merely added to the author's already increasing feelings of a deeply held shame, which by modern standards ( I hope ) would seen entirely differently.

One unexpected reaction was to the descriptions of those giving evidence at the Tokyo hearings in 1992 which held for me the greatest sadness, prompting the question, " why do we say in one breath ` never again ' and then watch it happen again somewhere else ?"

Having read this book, the phrases around those failing to remember or learn from mistakes in history being destined to repeat them took on a more sharper focus.

Toward the concluding chapter I felt the either the topics could have been grouped together or expanded upon as these chapters became increasingly shorter but this is more an observation than a criticism.

If there is one criticism to be made about this book, it is the abrupt end to the recollections of the Tokyo hearings which left me `high and dry' asking "so what was the outcome, was there an apology, was their restitution ? "

Whether this was due to design or circumstances isn't clear.

I would say I `enjoyed' reading this book in the same vein as I `enjoyed' watching Schindler's List, in that the enjoyment was in acknowledging the work and not necessarily enjoying the content - if that makes sense.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the human cost of Imperial expansionism during WW II with the caveat of ` This isn't an easy read and you'll not use the term "Comfort Woman" ever again !"


Secret War: A Pictorial History of the Special Operations Executive
Secret War: A Pictorial History of the Special Operations Executive
by Juliette Padinson
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to the SOE, 9 July 2009
A first class introduction to the S.O.E., 29 May 2009
This book is exactly as described, a record "in pictures" of various aspects of the Special Operations Executive which would suit any reader as a good "sheep dip" into the subject, without the need for massive provenance.

Refreshingly, this book manages to balance between the needs of readers who may be more academically orientated and those who may have what could be considered to be a general interest in the topic.

The illustrations are exclusively in black and white and whilst some have been seen many times before, their use is entirely correct given the flow of the book and subjects discussed.

Some original images and descriptions (for me) made for a more challenging read, especially relating to the torture and execution of Marquis and S.O.E. agents.

The typesetting and pagination of each page with the appropriate insertion of images throughout this book made it very easy on the eye to read.

This is not a heavily referenced text book but a fantastically interesting read none the less, which I would have no hesitation to recommend.


Operation Jupiter
Operation Jupiter
by Dorothy Baden-Powell
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A challenging but rewarding read, 26 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Operation Jupiter (Hardcover)
This book describes the support given by the Special Operations Executive and their actions with the Norwegian resistance/Secret Army (Milorg) during the occupation of Norway by German forces in WWII.

The material in this book is a readable and clever mix of thoroughly researched archive records and firsthand accounts written by an S.O.E. operative based in England/Scotland at the time and who was present at various key events/briefing/debriefings.

Whilst those accounts not based on the author's firsthand knowledge are very well referenced, at times there is an impression (rightly or wrongly) of links being formed based on what could be considered to be an educated assumption.

Having said that, these assumptions are far and few between and certainly do not detract from the overall incredible details described in this work such as landing of agents by sea and air in fantastically dangerous circumstances.

Given the horrendous and vicious nature of reprisals taken against the local populous following any resistance activity, the anxiety and apprehension is described in an almost matter of fact way concerning several incidents is truly remarkable.

Whilst I felt there was no real need to include a chapter on the Heavy Water plant raid at Ryukan (which could not do the topic justice if not based on the lack of available space alone) no historical account of Norwegian resistance could really exist without at least some mention of this incident.

It is remarkable to acknowledge the ongoing fondness felt by the Norwegian people toward British forces (and in particular to the Shetland Islands) given that the long awaited (and planned) invasion of Norway by Allied forces never materialised (albeit entirely understandably).

In my view, the clear danger of vicious and prolonged torture at the hands of the Gestapo faced by members of the Norwegian Resistance/Milorg and their families cannot be more evident than as described in the latter sections of this book.

One agent's first hand description of the brutal interrogation of a colleague at the hands of Westerberger and Gussler (two infamous Gestapo torturers) following an audacious release of another agent's wife from a police station is simply incredible, as are his actions to `save' his friend from further agony and his method of final escape!

Another agent's firsthand description of the reprisal taken against two night watchmen who failed to stop an electricity station being blown up, involved the deliberate shooting dead of both their entire families in a village square - including small children is truly harrowing.

For me this was at times a disturbing but mostly a clear insight into a previously clandestine theatre of wartime operations which was both a challenging and a rewarding read.

The attention to details does not detract from the flow of the content and the actions are described in (for me at least) sufficient detail to enable cross referencing to other sources, which is a credit to the skill of the author.

I would consider this book as essential reading to anyone with an interest in activities of the Special Operations Executive and more specifically their activities in Norway, or in support of the Norwegian resistance.


The Honour and the Shame (True Stories from World War II)
The Honour and the Shame (True Stories from World War II)
by John Kenneally Vc
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simply Fascinating, 26 Jun. 2009
This is the firsthand account of a brief period in both civil and military WWII history written by a man named Kenneally, who it later transpires is in fact an assumed name given to the author (a former deserter) by an Irish national.

This prompted the question, is it correct to award the highest decoration for valour in the face of the enemy to a man who had previously deserted the Army in a time of war?

Having re-read Kenneally's reasoning, this appears to be a mute point given that if it was not correct to do so, would have seen the V.C. being retracted once Kenneally's true identity (Jackson) became known, however others may not agree.

Having said that this is a fascinating read, moving as it does from descriptions of guttural fighting (although the numbers of Germans engaged resulting in the award of the V.C. seem somewhat variable depending on who's account you read) and a fantastically ageless dark military humour.

This dark humour can be shown in Kenneally's account of his shooting dead a German chef and denying the enemy their lunch!

Similarly in the recollection of an exchange with a German soldier "... when The Stuka comes you duck, when the Spitfire comes we duck, when [the American plane] comes, everybody ducks ..."

Whilst it cannot be said that every Allied soldier behaved appropriately in war and the record of misdeeds speaks for itself, I was struck by instances of clear humanity and a lack of judgment on the part of Kenneally, which I doubt has become more acute over the years of reflections.

Kenneally's actions toward an injured German soldier and his rebuke of the treatment toward Allied troops ostracised due to what was regarded as a lack of moral fibre (later recognised as battle fatigue/shell shock) is a credit to his self discipline and humanity respectively.

Oddly enough this book was not as heavy on recollections of battle as I had first thought but contained other accounts of life (and loves) during WWII and attitudes towards life in the Army and the view of the opposing forces which is not something I was expecting but found engrossing.

As with so many of these, Kenneally's recollections provoked various questions and comparisons, which to me is an indication of a `good book' rather than just a good read.

The title is particularly and cleverly apt in this regard, the honour but also the shame.

I would have no issue recommending this book to anyone with an interest in the life of the `Tommy at the front end' and how he saw WWII.


Soe Secret Operations Manual
Soe Secret Operations Manual
by Paladin Press
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.93

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, 9 Jun. 2009
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As the title correctly indicates, this is a `manual' and as such is not (in my view at least) a particularly easy read dependant as it is on the extensive use of bullet points and lists.

The text frequently moves between English and US English (lots of `Z's instead of `S's) and the section relating to Burglary appears to be a straight lift from American text which is supported by references to American place names and terminology.

Whilst this is entirely understandable given the stated O.S.S. input within this manual, however it did cause me to pause and consider that whilst this may indeed be a direct reproduction of a `secret' manual used by the S.O.E. (and O.S.S.) it is most probably not `the' manual used by the S.O.E. (based on the courses developed by the then Captain, E.A. Sykes).

Given that Fairbairn worked mostly with Applegate and the O.S.S. in Canada and the U.S. it maybe that this manual is a 'fairbairnised' version of Sykes S.O.E. work.

As there are (understandably) no refrences in this book, the above interpretation has no real weight beyond being an educated guess.

Having said that, whilst this book is a fascinating look into agent training during WWII, there appears to be nothing in this book that could be regarded as `secret' in the traditional sense of the word either at the time or now.

It may be that content such as this was considered `Secret' based more on the use of the document rather than the actual content, which would make sense given the circumstances at the time.

By today's standards I would expect work such as this to be (at most) RESTRICTED under the Government Protective marking Scheme (G.P.M.S.).

The opening chapters on cryptography and ciphers are an interesting read (clearly this was in the days before `Bob and Alice') and whilst stamped `SECRET' replicating the original markings, this technology was already known at the time and in use by Axis forces, prompting the question `why is this marked secret' ?

The guidance on recruiting agents was interesting even if (by today's standards) the guidance seems to be common sense but then again this information was being used to turn everyday people who would have had little if any awareness of this sort of thing, into undercover agents in occupied territory.

This manual could also be described as `course notes' which may explain why thre are no detailed descriptions, given that much of the `real' knowledge would have been imparted face to face and in the form of practical application.

Having read the text (there are no images and a few line diagrams which appear to have been hand drawn) and accepting that this is a reproduction of the original document, I couldn't help feeling that some well placed explanatory notes (in the same vein as Silent Killing: Nazi Counters to Fairbairn-Sykes Techniques) would have been very helpful.

This would have improved understanding when dealing with initials used within various sections instead of the full name ("C.E." and "S" being two examples).

This book does however provide provenance to the tactics adopted by agents such as why dead letter boxes would have been more appropriate in certain circumstances and why many agents would not have actually meet the circuit organiser face to face, contrary to the popular impression given today.

The lack of any detailed content relating to interrogation resistance was disappointing (such as counting or visualisation) but then this is more of an observation of the original training than this book.

Oddly, there is no reference to the much adopted 24 hour rule, whereby agents would try at all costs to resist interrogation for 24 hours to assist other agents to take evasive actions.

I would recommend this book to any reader who may want to identify why agents behaved in a particular way - based on their training - however this manual does not reveal any `dirty tricks' or provide an insight into the mindset of an agent beyond what could be considered basic methods/operating procedures/considerations and security.

All things being equal, this for me was a good read and provided a brief insight into a by-gone age of espionage training which I would recommend is read with the caveat that this manual was used to train agents almost 70 years ago.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 19, 2009 7:59 PM GMT


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