UNEARTHING CHURCHILL’S SECRET ARMY The Official List of SOE Casualties and Their Stories – Review by Mark Barnes


UNEARTHING CHURCHILL’S SECRET ARMY The Official List of SOE Casualties and Their Stories
By John Grehan and Martin Mace
Publishes by Pen & Sword Military
ISBN: 978 1 84884 794 1
Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

Imagine. You’re on your own in a small flat above a nondescript shop on the outskirts of Copenhagen. It’s early morning and in the early fug of this, your last day you hear the heavy feet and the first angry shouts and you know it’s your time. There’s no way out, no use in trying. Pull yourself together. You’ve always known the consequences and been prepared for the horrible reality. And in that first instance of the splintering door and the closing anger of their fury you bite on the cyanide capsule awaiting this finale to your journey.

Where does that courage come from? That ability to take your own life when all hope is lost when everything is at stake. The secrets, the faith and hope. The knowledge the enemy won’t beat you and learn what you know. Where are these people now in our minds? They don’t figure much in daily consciousness or on public memorials. Perhaps in some countries they  end up on postage stamps – the sort that filled starter packs when kids collected that sort of thing in the days before Call of Duty. Some of their names were carved in pride in black and white movies in the 1950s when these things followed the books that filled bookshops and the Sunday papers when our media hungered for heroics of a war still in proud memory. But now they are barely footnotes, their bodies burned and long since lost. But they were real and in their dying moment, on a lonely road, at the end of a rope, the firing squad and much worse; what did they see as they closed their eyes? I hope it was someone they loved and who loved them back in equal measure.

In this compelling directory John Grehan and Martin Mace attempt to lift the lid on much of the smokescreen that continues to hide so many of the amazing men and women of the Special Operations Executive from our view. Churchill wanted them to “Set Europe Ablaze” and yet so much more than his famous quote remains lost in a dense fire of secrecy even now. After all these years the state is still protecting itself and the few people from those times still living from the deeds done in those dark years. But the hundred or so agents who died taking the war to the Nazis are shining lights in all this darkness and the authors switch them on for us. Directories are not great reads as such. You pick them up and put them down. But these people matter. They fought a dangerous and very important war as much as any pilot or tank commander, commando or submariner and they died at the hands of a deviously cruel, desperate enemy. This book is awash with merit and was no mean feat to put together. It is a worthy addition to any library and I recommend it to the house.

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By Mark Barnes / Visit his amazing facebook page: For Your Tomorrow

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.