on 24 August 2011
If you are into fictional or non-fictional secrets and intelligence gathering; into behind the lines private armies, like the SAS, and guerrilla warfare, this book is for you. If the hero is then charming, alluring to anything young plain or glamorous walking in skirts, then add his encounter with Ian Fleming in Jamaica in the 1950s and you have the makings of one of his many prototype Bonds licensed to serve, and to kill - only the majority of the stories in this book are very true, and the rest as in all secrets who knows.
Geoffrey Gordon-Creed, the name he was professionally known, operated closely in the desert with heroes, such as Lt Gen Herbert Lumsden, and the gunner Brig "Jock" Campbell, VC of the desert "Boxes", as well as the mythical founder of the SAS,Col David Stirling. To his men he was a crack shot; to his women he was a dream, a heartbreaker, a "descendant of Lord Byron", for him they were simply to be seduced to be enjoyed as pawns in the struggle; while for his enemies he was a wanted murderer with a high price on his head. He could not stomach pompous fools, paper-pushing "wallahs" at General Staff, or those who shouted rank to stop him; he even considered the "open" rank-free SAS as too structured. He was his own force building up his own platoons, and obtained instant effective results. But being in the midst of political intrigue, he gained as much respect, and hostility from his own military and political superiors - a few obviously eager to have him silenced or killed off in the next battle if they dared to.
For veterans, military historians, and general readers his tales are full of action and interesting personal anecdotes. Those given these facts will want more and more. They are written from the heart as it was felt, sometimes in an original, less than traditional style. While still a lowly Second Lieutenant, in the 2nd Royal Gloster Hussars, he was awarded his immediate MC in his first action at El Gubi, in November 1941, for knocking out at least two Italian tanks. There, "Lt/Capt/Maj Geoff", as he was always known, he demonstrated the limits of his anger: while limping wounded and being hurled a grenade, he sprinted forward to the stalled tank, hopped aboard and gladly dropped one grenade down the turret, so blowing the "Ities" "to hell!"
Before his most incredible period in Greece, Geoff had already been captured and escaped using a cunning plan; he had brought down and captured a Luftwaffe ace with a Knight's Cross, and had fought in his single crazy and failed large raid on Benghazi in September 1942 with the SAS.
It was in Greece, however, that his name ruled, and was feared. Geoff operated behind the lines for over 15 months, blowing up bridges and trains to cause the greatest difficulties for the Germans, and for a time their Axis allies, the Italians.
In June 1943 he and his small group blew up the Asopos viaduct- a vital incident even recorded by Churchill in vol. 5 in his Second World War, because the damaged railway line would take many months to repair, and because it persuaded the enemy that after the Allied victories in North Africa they would turn their attention towards Greece and not the invasion of Sicily as in fact occurred in Operation Husky in July 1943; so obliging them to keep more Divisions in the area. Geoff was awarded an immediate DSO. Thereafter he was involved in many small operations, including the attack on the north-south rail line at Kastelli, to hold up the forces and equipment being sent for the planned recapture of Kos and Leros. The islands were lost, but for ten days nine trains were held back, before the line was repaired. Finally, when Greece was being liberated in October 1944 he was an important link in preventing the blowing up of the Marathon dam, promising a lot of gold sovereigns to the greedy departing German major. The dam was spared, Athenians went on with the normal daily tasks, while in the confusion the officer, Maj. Weissman, was reported dead, and his golden treasure miraculously vanished, so becoming another marginal footnote of history.
The thought that Geoff was a cruel insensitive immoral or amoral beast, no different from his fanatical enemy butchers is too easy for anyone who has never experienced the brutality, and double-dealings of war, to proclaim. The author recounted the morality in the incident of two Austrian friends who turned on one another just to survive, with the winner then discovering that he too would be shot; since there was sufficient proof that he was operating as an agent left behind the lines either for the the Abwehr, the Wehrmacht's intelligence or for the SD, the intelligence wing of the SS, ready to create as much harmful dissent with his enemies, and, most of all, to kill again. Kill or be killed, was Geoff's first wartime lesson. The second, as a good leader, was to protect his followers. What was so amoral in that?
From the early days Geoff understood that the Resistance in Greece was not something crystal clear and honest. He realised the local resistors, the Communists, formed as ELAS guerrillas were intent not just to push out the Nazis, but to liberate Greece all from their political opponents; which meant destroying all other the non-Communist resistors, EKKA and EDES, with the war used as the first step in a Communist scheme to bring about a social revolution. Inevitably, he predicted correctly this to be the first battle of the post-war Cold War, and as he did not wish to be a part of it except for warning his political heads, and his friends to be very careful, he decided to move on. Also like the fictional Bond, Field recounts that behind the scenes Geoff played a small part with King George living in Egypt, in restoring the monarchy, and not encouraging the political bloody battle to return to the streets.
After Greece, Germany. Geoff in May 1945 was the figure who captured two of the leading Nazi baddies: Admiral Doenitz, Reich's President after the death of Hitler, and the architect and Minister of Armaments & War Production, Albert Speer; in addition, one of Wernher von Braun, the scientist's colleagues from Peenemunde, Ludwig von Hutten, surrendered himself to him.
Peacetime was dead and dull for those active commandos of the Geoff kind. Fortunately, his fairly recent wartime experiences and name could still be turned on and off at will by the authorities. He was involved in the 1950s, in Kenya against the Mau Mau, and called up as a possible hit man against Archbishop Makarios and General Grivas during the British involvement with EOKA in Cyprus. His sexual passions blossomed in the same territories too, including an eight day week affair with Ava Gardner, for as in his war Geoff hoped that his peace would be exciting and enjoyable for him, his four wives, and the rest of his harem of familiar and less known admirers. Enjoyment had been the third wartime lesson, for life in war was uncertain, brutish and short. Geoff always watched his back to live to fight another day, as well as to enjoy all the spoils.
This book provides a clever film producer with the makings of a long feature film, or even a TV series. Roger Field, and Geoff's family, should be thanked for making Geoffrey Gordon-Creed's adventures become more public. Masterly and brilliantly retold.
on 20 December 2011
You can hear the clichés stacking up; Fleming's inspiration for Bond, a cross between Flashman and Niven, Lothario of the desert and so on. The fact is there are so many parts to Geoffrey Gordon-Creed that most men can probably identify with some of him and if honest would probably like to identify with a whole lot more, but dare not admit it. The Second World War required gifted amateurs to rub alongside the seasoned professionals yet demanded that they grow up fantastically quickly. Quite often they did and with a breadth of vision which allowed them to flourish unshackled by military convention. Gordon-Creed was such a man and his was an extraordinary war.
I will not summarise the story save to say that his war experience, actions and manner will divide opinion which in itself is sufficient argument for his story to be told. Unconventional men have a habit of getting up the noses of conventional men so to win both an MC and DSO is an extraordinary achievement. Approve or not of the man the fact remains that this is a fascinating, must read, account of a theatre of war which has been largely eclipsed by SOE operations in France. Yet it was the war in Greece conducted by Gordon-Creed, and a very few other brave people, that kept the Germans so stretched across the whole European theatre that they were never able to concentrate sufficient force to deal with the Normandy landings. He's right up there with Spike Milligan in the downfall of Hitler and there are moments in this book when you will laugh just as much. His interview technique is mind boggling.
Gordon-Creed's is a personal view of war; exciting, frightening, funny, brutal, unapologetic. He doesn't moralise or seek to justify the things he did, he doesn't come across as proud (although the term `cocky' does spring to mind); it is just the way things are when you don't want to be killed yet people are trying to do exactly that to you, all day every day for 15 months.
Roger Field is to be thanked and congratulated for saving a fascinating wartime account which otherwise might have been lost had he not had the imagination to provide an engaging narrative spiced with personal anecdote from his own experience of conflict in the Falklands War. I have never before read a book in this narrative style but once you are with the flow it really works. Without it there is no book.
Geoffrey Gordon-Creed lived quite a remarkable life during world war two. You may not have heard about him before, but once you've read his memoirs you're guaranteed not to forget him in a hurry.
Geoffrey himself died in 2002, but his self penned story now sees print thanks to the efforts of Roger Field, who has edited the manuscript and provided extra detail and notes wherever required.
The main narrative runs a little over three hundred pages, but an introduction from Roger Field plus various notes and appendixes including a battle diary for a regiment that Geoffrey was in plus a list of recommended further reading an appendix make the book as a whole a little over three hundred and seventy pages.
The book is divided into eighteen chapters plus an epilogue that details what happened to Geoff after world war two.
The notes from Roger Field are in italics, although these tend to vanish after a while and be replaced by footnotes instead. Whilst these sections are excellently researched and do provide a lot of necessary extra detail the amount of them at the start do mean that the book does take a while to get going, and it leaves you desperate to hear Geoffrey's voice.
But once you get to that things really do get going as he tells an enthralling tale. Helped in no small part by the fact that it's written in the style of it's times.
You follow him from a short lived attempt to form a ski battalion to help the Finnish against the Russians then through various training until he gets into the desert war. Where the British tanks outnumbered the enemy by three to one but they would often take three times as many losses.
Despite having a wife at home in England he lived for the moment and the ladies and is constantly getting into amorous liasions whenever getting the chance to visit Cairo.
Then he gets into the Special Overseas Executive, and ends up running sabotage missions in occupied Greece.
Here is a fascinating picture of life in an occupied country where half the partisans are more interested in gaining postwar power, where willing locals - in particular the ladies - will help the dashing and brave allied men - and where the idyllic life can be shattered at any moment by the threat of being found by the enemy.
Geoff is a capable and highly skilled professional but never someone who revels in his work.
When he finally leaves Greece more interesting encounters await as he gets into Western Europe in time to help arrest prominent nazis as the war comes to an end.
The epilogue detailing his postwar life has to go back mostly to Roger Field's notes, but a fairly fascinating picture of life in the twilight of the British empire does emerge.
All in all a remarkable read about a fascinating man. All the love making is very discreet in the writing style, the descriptions of combat are very matter of fact and there are a small handful of bits of strong language. All, as mentioned, in the style of the times. And a story of a remarkable man in remarkable times, this is a really good read.