I appreciate an informative book and I really like an entertaining read, so a book that encompasses both is a boon. Step up Arthur Ward, a longstanding Airfixianado whose previous works on the
small scale world many of us know and love include books I have somewhere in the Barnes library which bring back memories of fingers glued together and kits which never quite turned out how they look on the box lids. In fact, if you look back over some of my earlier reviews you will often find references to Airfix, so this is far from being another case of “Not now, Arthur” which we might have heard if Eric and Ernie were at the helm.
I digress…but such is Arthur Ward’s descriptive power you are soon sucked into the world he conjures up in this magical book which is revised and re-issued under a new title. In fact I have to say it often gets the better of him and I detect signs of Mr Ward, or his editor, the poor lamb, attempting to rein things in. He is bursting with facts, people and reminiscences. The stuff bulges out of the pages and pops out of sentences a bit like a kind of history mad loony toons. You will get no complaints from me. I think this is what someone under the age of thirty would call “random”. So, you might be forgiven for thinking it lacks a bit of direction, a bit like one of Ronnie Corbett’s armchair monologues – and do you know what, that isn’t far off, now I come to think of it. But no, they were sharply written and bloody clever. They drew you in and, as Sheldon is very fond of saying, “Bazinga!” The punch line is delivered.
The punch line is delivered… Just what is that? Well it’s simple. A group of amazing people: Country folk mostly, some military; some not, some adventurers, some not, some brilliant, many ordinary – brought together by the extraordinary concept that they would stay behind in the event of an invasion by the Nazis and disrupt their plans. Amazing eh? There are tangents; we have women who monitored the morale of the troops. We have all kinds of information on the situation at home and the likely events once an invasion took place. There are the lists of people to be arrested included dangerous subversives like Noel Coward! There the personalities of our wood-be occupiers, some of whom perfected their evil in Russia and who met their fate at the end of a rope at Nuremberg. There are the Auxiliaries themselves, the ghosts living in the shadows. These people are here in your lap as you read. They become real in an often subterranean world, hiding like moles, priming plastic explosives and fingering fighting knives or stalking through thickets. They had a plethora of weapons and they learned to be invisible. They had few illusions. We all know that the Germans were and would have been cruel. We are all painfully aware that a few country folk wandering around with homemade bombs and what have you would have been no match for seasoned airborne troops. The end result was not in doubt. But they would have tried anyway. This book is awash with heroes. Amazing people who were prepared to die for King and country and smaller things like village, hamlet or smallholding and when that was no longer necessary went off and fought a “real” war in the wider world. Some stayed at home and endured jealousies and whispers all their lives because when the “stand down” came there was no overt recognition for what they had done, no fanfare, mo medals.
The Auxiliaries or Auxunits were unique to the UK, set up in advance of an invasion which, thankfully, never came. A few years ago a mate of mine found one of their OBs in a wood near where we live. It’s still there, untouched and unremarked, and I keep meaning to go with him to have a look. Their monuments are their dens in the woods where they left them, hidden away. But as Arthur Ward says, they deserve much more. Unfortunately, like many other groups in Britain’s war effort, they have been left behind, which is kind of ironic. This book lovely, ever so slightly bonkers but always on the button book shines a welcome light on them and I urge you to take them to your hearts. It’s for keeps and will rank as one of my favourites as one I wish I had written. Bazinga!
CHURCHILL’S SECRET DEFENCE ARMY
Resisting the Nazi Invader
By Arthur Ward
Published in hardback by Pen & Sword £25.00
ISBN: 978 1 84884 808 5