23 November 2006
This is a quite wonderful book. Not just because of Miss Bennett's superlative historical talent and comment, but because she has allowed herself to enter into the heart of the matter - a heart that contained not only a massive archive of intelligence secrets of WW2 - but also a German bullet, which had it moved a fraction of an inch, could have presaged instant death. Thus marriage had been out of the question for it's owner, my god father, Major Sir Desmond Morton. As he was excessively secretive about his work and background, this was practically the only piece of information I got from him in this period which turned into a very affectionate bi-polar relationship. It was 1932 and I was eight. Desmond had been my Godfather when we converted to Catholicism. Later when my parents divorced and my father left for fields afresh, he arranged for my mother, my two sisters and I to have Chartwell Cottage on the edge of his friend Winston Churchill's estate which rested below Desmond's house at Crockham Hill, which was called `Early lands', or course we children called it `Fairylands'. There he nursed an electrifying hobby as an exorcist which he exercised in close cooperation with his friend, the Reverend C.C. Martindale, a Jesuit priest and the leading authority in the kingdom on affairs of spiritualism. Usually in the middle of the night, they would creep off with a good supply of Holy Water and other Satanic baiting equipment. A day or so later, he would visit our bedroom and recount to us terrified children, the fine details of his ghostly encounters as we hugged up together under the sheets. When our mother arrived to exhort Desmond not to frighten the children, Desmond always replied, "Now don't fuss, Daisy!"
Everyone called our mother, `Daisy'.
Thus during the period from 1932 to May 1940, I knew nothing of historical interest about Desmond, except that he had almost replaced my father and become as was the tradition of the times - `Uncle' Desmond.
However as I read Miss Bennett's inspired prose and am carried away with the truth and realism of her work, I find myself truly grateful for being given this joyful and magnificently interesting opportunity to be once more re-united with Desmond.
Between May 1940-July 1945, Miss Bennett tell us that it was every difficult to find out what Morton was doing in this period of his highly secretive life at Downing Street. Where he spent his leisure time, how he or his friends or relations were affected by the conflict. Nevertheless she manages to give us a very interesting insight into those of Morton's activities that could be both seen and documented. I was particularly fascinated by this for although I was newly hatched as a Midshipman in the Royal Navy, I was also on confidential loan to Desmond. I get the impression throughout the book that Morton preferred service personnel in charge of intelligence matters and not civilians or politicians, excluding Churchill, who often behaved as if he were commanding a battalion of the line. No disgruntled petty jealousies. But rather, "Do as you're bloody told!" To which the only reply was `Aye, aye, Sir"!
As Morton `Energetically awaits Death' & in the Epilogue,
Miss Bennett presents `her piece,' and her heart runs free. The flow of the words, the accuracy of the history, the depth of feeling for her real life characters, her humility and joy, her amusement, laughing with, and not `at', and my own memories of that haughty jealous spiteful cat Jezebel, her beautiful green all seeing eyes, slinking into the room followed by Desmond in the full regalia of a Chinese Mandarin. It is all so sad - but wonderful and I am deeply moved by Miss Bennett's restaging of all this mingled with my own memories and thoughts.
In my review epilogue, I refer back to Chapter 11, `The Morton Myth'. Miss Bennett has told us that it was every difficult to find out what Morton was doing in this period of his highly secretive life at Downing Street, where he spent his leisure time. She also asked, `What did Morton do, or not do, during the war'?
I once again marvel at the words of this chapter because they eloquently and accurately present us with brilliant cover events that guarded one of the most successfully audacious, dangerous, amoral, terrible, yet necessary Operational Intelligence Sections. It was controlled by Desmond Morton under the direct authority of the Prime Minister and under cover of the Royal Navy.
In the introduction to this book, Miss Bennett tells us that Desmond destroyed his private papers before his death in 1971.
Yes! But not before all these papers had been meticulously copied, photographed and sent away to the special secure archives which houses such sensitive documents.
It is not my business to go any further here with this diversion except to say that I think Desmond would have loved Miss Bennett's very fine book - I certainly did.