Being there . . . with the heroines of the British Secret Service in World War II
Countless Women of Valor, Prowess, and Gallantry Also Fought to the Bitter End
Reviewed and Recommended by Don DeNevi
By the end of September 1937, when Hitler pivoted his gargantuan armies and assorted armed forces from Poland to efface France then expurgate Britain, leaving the Commonwealth to fight alone, women throughout the Dominions, Republic of India, the former colonies, protectorates, and territories, sprang forth for service, and, if necessary, action.
Both “Code Breaker Girls a Secret Life At Bletchley Park” and “Covert Radio Agents, 1939 – 1945, Signals From Behind Enemy Lines” have arrived from Casemate Publishers in time to purchase and wrap as a perfect combined Christmas and New Year gift for the World War II buff.
“Code Breaker Girls” by Jan Slimming, with a Foreword by Sir Dermot Turing. Pen and Sword Military, Dist. By Casemate; 338 pages, HC $42.95, is a rare, remarkable insight into the true story of Daisy Lawrence who for a lifetime kept secret from her own family that she had been carefully selected by the government to serve her beloved British Isles as a code breaker.
Daughter Jan Slimming, a publishing professional before moving to America with her family, was six when she learned of her mother’s involvement at super-secret Bletchley Park. But it wasn’t until decades later that she was compelled to research the background of the story. Jan used snippets of information, unpublished photographs, and her own recollections of why, “mum”-Daisy, was chosen to work at the Bletchley Station. What makes this such an exciting eyewitness account is that Jan’s narration breathes emotional life into dusty notes of descriptions, original letters, official documents, and the reports of what happened to her mother once the war ended. Vowing to the British government that she, as an active participant in codebreaking, would carry the secret of her service at “The Bletchley” to the grave only added tumult to Daisy’s final years.
In brief, daughter Jan Slimming eloquently combines family and wartime experiences to show how mom’s ordinary London life in contrast to her daily complex codebreaking in the super sanctuary of secrecy crippled mom’s mental health. Her postwar Far Eastern adventures and activities didn’t help her declining psychological health.
For this reader and reviewer, the core of “Code Breaker Girls” details Daisy Lawrence’s selection process; her dramatic high-level acceptence into the service; arrival on the first day at Bletchley; facing the mysteries of her surroundings; entering Room 40 for the first time, and her responsibilities in it; then, the supreme moment of being introduced to Enigma; helping to win the Battle of the Atlantic; and on to VE Day – – every segment mesmerizing as if the reader is side by side with the unique woman, watching and observing.
For anyone interested in the birth of Enigma, it’s growth and development, and how a simple young lady from the streets of downtown London mastered it, then assisted in codebreaking to achieve innumerable victories for the Allies to win World War II in Europe, this is an absolute must read.
Meanwhile, “Covert Radio Agents, 1939 – 1945 – Signals from Behind Enemy Lines”, by British award-winning author and documentary film-maker David Hebditch, focuses upon the seldom appreciated, barely acknowledged, and hardly researched, extremely dangerous role of the clandestine radio operator behind enemy lines. Casemate Publishers, as the U.S. distributor, of course, recognized the importance of yet another perfectly designed Pen and Sword MILITARY title, and now retails the 301page hardcover for $49.95.
Often regarded as no more than “technical assistants” to the agents on special missions and assignments, the brave radio operators were feared by the Germans who understood their importance, especially those servicing the men and women of the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service); M15 (Military Intelligence Department 5); M16, an adjunct of SIS; the “Z” Network; AIB (Air Intelligence Branch), America’s OSS (Office of Strategic Service), and other assorted equally important, albeit smaller, branches and units. Britain’s vast WW II spy network, instigated by Winston Churchill, was nonpareil in the world history of espionage.
Hebditch’s meticulously researched book, truly a marvelous compendium of unpublished inside information, delineates the superb, often super heroic, work of the typical operator, despite he or she knowing capture was inevitable, usually within a six-week period. Extreme torture and gruesome death were the natural consequences and should counted on. When seventeen New Zealand Coastwatchers were captured by the Japanese on the Gilbert Islands, each was decapitated on the spot caught. By 1945, one third of Allied radio operators, virtually all British, had been shot. Rumor persists that an SIS traitor, some argues it was the leader codenamed “Z”, who betrayed most.
When it comes to the undercover war of spies, the link-up of resistance groups, fatal failures and incredible successes, no writer surpasses scholar David Hebditch – – google his published titles, much too lengthy to include in this limited space. Then, order the two titles listed above directly from Casematepublishers.com; or, email: enquiries @pen-and-sword.co.uk. Once received and read back-to-back, the recipient will be forever indebted and grateful. Trust this reviewer.