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And Who Are You?

'Following for Gallegos -- stop. Congratulations from us all on your escape -- stop. All the best Gerry'. This is the text of a wartime radio signal received by Adrian Gallegos from Commander Gerry Holdsworth at Allied force Headquarters soon after he had reached the relative safety of partisan territory in the north of Italy, then under the command of an SOE officer named Major Gordon Lett. Gallegos at that point had spent thirteen months in, or escaping from, a series of German labour and concentration camps in Bavaria and Austrai during 1943-44. By relating the events which led up to his capture, and all that followed it, he unfolds a story of breathtaking adventure which makes The Thirty-Nine Steps seen almost colourless by comparison.

Truth we know is often stranger than fiction and in this book by Adrian Gallegos (whose title, And Who Are You? is probably, with a somewhat unwieldly and top-heavy construction, one of its weaker points), we read of superhuman exploits and endurance described with restraint, modesty and humour. Gallegos was born in Rome in 1907 of a Spanish father and English mother so his background was cosmopolitan to say the least, and he spoke five languages fluently. When young he took British nationality. Gallegos lived in pre-war London and worked for a well-known firm of underwriters at Lloyds until 1940 when he joined the RNVR and was subsequently seconded to SOE and based at various times in Gibraltar, North Africa, Sicily and Italy. It is these war years which are at the heart of his book and which make absorbing reading, giving Gallegos's story something of the quality of epic and the heroic, though he himself would be the last person to make such a claim.

After a routine mission to infiltrate an agent by sea onto the Italian mainland, Gallegos was captured by Italians and subsequently handed over to the Germans. Masquerading as Italian he experienced appalling privations for varying lengths of time, in a series of thoroughly dreadful prisons and labour camps. The people he met, the brutality he encountered, and the hardships he endured before succeeding in his third and final attempt to escape, compel our attention and admiration. The story of his journey, largely on foot through enemy terrain and, against all odds, his eventual crossing into allied territory and meeting with partisans under the command of a British officer; and from there his last and final trek back to base and a transit camp in Rome concludes the wartime saga of a remarkable and courageous man. He said of himself afterwards that he 'had gone through fire and had come out of it unscathed and greatly strengthened'.

To some extent the reader of Adrian Gallegos's book is able to share in this catharsis. It is well worth reading.
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Author:Bonsor, Ann
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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