Kathryn's Reviews > They Fought Alone

They Fought Alone by Maurice Buckmaster
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's review
Jan 13, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: world-war, soe
Read from January 02 to 12, 2012

This is the second book written by Maurice Buckmaster, head of the F- (French) Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), a resistance organization that trained and sent operatives into Nazi-occupied countries during WWII. Because a significant number of SOE agents were killed while trying to fight the Germans, the organization -- generally considered by the other branches of the British armed services to be dangerously amateurish -- and its leaders came under sharp criticism after the war when the SOE was immediately disbanded.

I can't as yet compare this book to Buckmaster's first (this one had an earlier library due date!) but it is obvious that in this tome, the author is still -- in 1958 -- trying to justify the work of the SOE's F-Section to British readers. Interspered within the F-Section's general history and specific agent stories (told with exceptional page-turning narrative skill) are answers to criticisms that had been around for a while but were still apparently rankling the author.

Some of Buckmaster's writing approaches the sublime and whether or not he made mistakes (decades of scholarship have basically proved that he did), it's obvious here that the agents and the work they did moved him powerfully and his writing has the potential to affect readers in the same way:

"In no other department of war were men and women called upon to die alone, to withstand agony of mind and of body in utter solitude, to face death, often ignominious and pain-racked, uncertain whether they might not have saved themselves by the revelation of petty secrets. In no other department of war were civilians asked to risk everything in order to conceal a man whom they had never seen before and might never see again."

And although Charles de Gaulle apparently kicked the SOE agents out very shortly after his own triumphal entry, this is what Buckmaster had to say about the French:

"Some it may be have read a great deal about the French being too easily vanquished and too ready to collaborate. For my part, I think it would be fitter to remember the tortures which they faced (tortures which so few in any country could stomach reading about, let alone suffering) and the risks they took in the face of a cruel, vindictive and sadistic invader. Let no one in England criticize the ordinary men and women of France till he has examined his own conscience and found himself blameless of compromise with forces and opinions which he secretly detests. Some Frenchmen, perhaps many, compromised with the invader. Many more, in the face of death, stood true to their country and to her allies."

I'm looking forward to reading the earlier Buckmaster book: it's not due till the end of the month. :)
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