SOE: Churchill’s Secret Agents – a little book on a big topic


SOE: Churchill’s Secret Agents
By: Terry Crowdy

Published by Shire Library, part of Bloomsbury UK
Distributed in Australia by Allen & Unwin
RRP $16.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781784420406

I was intrigued when this small volume arrived on my review bookshelf. This is a big topic to be contained in 64 pages.

It turns out that the Shire Library publishes a ‘charming and eclectic range of titles exploring British history and heritage, including the bestselling Bradshaw’s Handbook’.

Bradshaw’s will be familiar to anyone interested in UK and European railway journeys. Michael Portillo, one time UK Secretary of Defence in the Thatcher Government, has made a new career of following in the footsteps of the 19th century Bradshaw with his TV series Great British Railway Journeys and Great Continental Railway Journeys, but I digress.

The first name that springs to mind for any Australian when they see the acronym SOE should be Nancy Wake, who gets a small mention on p.56.

This small volume offers an overview of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) whose mission was to export resistance, subversion and sabotage to occupied Europe and beyond, disrupting the German war effort and building a Secret Army which would work in the shadows to help defeat the Nazis. Potential agents were put through intensive paramilitary and parachute training, then taught how to live clandestinely behind enemy lines, to operate radios and write in secret codes. They lived in constant fear of arrest, and of betrayal by treacherous collaborators.

This book uses rare images from the collections of The National Archives and the Imperial War Museum to illustrate the work of the SOE and some of the clever gadgets they dreamed up.

There is a list of Places to Visit for those interested in the SOE, including the obvious Churchill War Rooms (definitely worth a visit) and Bletchley Park (on the itinerary for my trip next year).


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