on 28 June 2011
I was fortunate enough to find this first edition in a second hand book shop and I still have no idea why I was looking at a shelf of other books I had no interest in.
This book describes in Captain Hugh Everard Joseph Dormer's own words his appointment to the S.O.E. and his experiences to and from Operation SCULLION and SCULLION II in enemy occupied France.
Whilst Captain Dormer describes in very close detail his experiences in reaching his target and the incredibly painful extraction back to the UK not just once but twice, he does not mention the S.O.E. by name or describe in any real detail his selection or training.
Whether this as deliberate is unclear, however as a diary of events it seemed somewhat unusual not to be referenced even if only obliquely.
I was struck by his strong religious faith, which is not something I was really expecting, however the execution of the successful mission was described in fantastic detail even to the point of the facility workers advising Dormer where to place his charges to achieve the most damage!
The description of his regimental life before and after SCULLION / SCULLION II made for interesting reading however the description of the foot journey back to the UK through enemy territory was simply incredible, matched only by his dealings with unhelpful civilians and uncaring guerillas whose loyalties could not be guaranteed.
Very few books have left me simply stunned by the extra ordinary actions of what could reasonably be described as `ordinary' persons recounted in such a matter of fact and casual way.
As a glimpse into life during wartime this book is in my view a fascinating read full of personal detail and descriptions however, as a description of the operational aspects of an S.O.E. operation and the personal qualities of Captain Dormer himself, this book is in my view simply incredible.
It is light in detail in some areas such as recruitment and training but then these are covered by other works, however what this diary does have is an incredible insight into an S.O.E. operation about which very few facts are openly available.
This book sits very nicely in my collection and still makes me smile every time I see it.
on 6 May 2013
This short memoir gives the verbatim account by Hugh Dormer of his two missions for the Special Operations Executive into occupied France to blow up factories supplying the Germans during 1942-43. They provide a stark and matter-of-fact record of a straightforward, idealistic attitude to war-duty. The young writer, an aristocratic, Catholic and patriotic Englishman, wrote with utter certainty in the rightness of all three identities, but also with a humble and cultured intelligence. Oblivious of fulfilling late twentieth century cliches, he read Henry V a number of times before embarking upon his missions, and had a deep love of classical music.
He became more reflective after his first mission - which had to be aborted in France at the last minute - notably with regard to his fear and increasing certainty of dying a 'sordid' death at the hands of the Gestapo. He avoided this fate (but nevertheless did not survive the war), while staying unflinching in his resolve. The tales of his escapes from occupied France, through Spain and Portugal, give a dramatic sense of the nerve-wracking exhaustion and constant fear of being lost, betrayed or surprised by the enemy. In his hands, other personalities do not really come alive, which is a pity because he met a number of quite exceptional individuals, notably the eclectic mix of people with whom he crossed the Pyranees. Eventually, Dormer opted to return to his regiment, the Irish Guards, which decision he explains with interesting depth. He took part in D-Day and was later killed in a tank battle in 1944.