Four Superlative Books on World War II – “Set Europe ablaze!”, demanded Winston Churchill
“Pioneers of Irregular Warfare – Secrets of the Military Intelligence Research Department In the Second World War,” by Malcolm Atkin; Casemate,Pen & Sword, $42.95
“Accidental Agent” – Behind Enemy Lines with the French Resistance,” by John Goldsmith; Casemate — Pen & Sword, $39.95
“With the SAS” – Across the Rhine into the Heart of Hitler’s Third Reich” by Ian Wellsted; Casemate — Frontline, $39.95
“A Woman of No Importance – – The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II”, by Sonia Purnell; Viking & Penguin, $28
On 8 October 1940, in a speech entitled, ‘We Can Take It!’ to his House of Commons, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874-1965), the Prime Minister who rallied the free world in its war against the Axis, said, “Herr Hitler, sprawled all over Europe, has turned his rage and malice on our civil population. Nearly 400 of his German bombing forces have visited our shore every 24 hours. Neither razing our cities to the ground nor slaughtering our people will turn us from our solemn and inexorable purpose. In visiting the scenes of death and destruction as promptly as possible, I have never been treated with so much kindness as by the people who have suffered the most. One would think one has brought some great benefit to them instead of blood and tears, the toil and sweat which is all I have ever promised. On every side, there is the cry, ‘We can take it!’, but with it there is also the cry, ‘Give it ‘em back! Give it ‘em back!’”
Little did those courageous unconquerables know only a few weeks before that heroic oratorical Renaissance warrior, craving aggressive attacks against the Nazis, ordered, “Set Europe ablaze” by authorizing the creation of Section D of the fledgling Special Operations Executive (SOE), exemplifying an ideal model for the American OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, a year later. Also fathered were the “Baker Street Irregulars”; M – 1 and M – 16; the SAS, Special Air Services; and the SIS, Secret Intelligence Services.
Suddenly, overnight, a host of other abbreviations, appendices, glossaries, map symbols, etc., were born, as Churchill put it, to follow the tactical maxim first aphorized from freedom fighters the world over in defiance of defeat, “Advance like foxes, fight like lions, and fly like birds,” was the fundamental premise dating back to the birth of Mankimd. In short, Churchill ordered, “Design, plan, coordinate and execute deadly action by way of subversion and sabotage against the enemy everywhere overseas”. Yes, “Set Europe ablaze” was to become more than a mere soundbite. (See Martin Gilbert, Vol. 1, “Finest Hour, Winston Churchill”. Minerva Books; 1991, p. 667.
In this sad, trying 2021 year, these four superlatively researched and narrated hardcovers have been reviewed and are recommended as four of the Best World War II Book Buys For Christmas and the New Year. As gifts, either to the self, or family and friends, hearts will be kindled, especially if all four titles are wrapped and presented as one gift in a single package. True aficionados, devotees, or casual armchair buffs, with hungry appetites for additional insight and understanding of the rarely acknowledged secret services that contributed so much and so often during those terrible years will be forever grateful.