The current book includes a good deal of the author's two previous books but there is a beginning with an amusing account of his introduction to regular activities when he was commissioned in 1936 into the 'Blues'. On the outbreak of war, the regiment was posted to Palestine via a very uncomfortable journey through Marseilles to Haifa for much training until, in July 1940, David Smiley was seconded to the Somaliland Camel Corps. In the event the regiment never got beyond Aden before returning to Suez whence, through the good offices of General Wavell in Cairo, he and Billy McLean put in an application to join the newly formed Commandos. Neither of them wanted to return to straight regimental duties.
But he had to do another stint with the regiment in Palestine before, in November 1940, he got the summons to join No. 52 (Middle East) Commando which advanced to the Sudan-Abyssinian border where they were improperly used as infantry. On withdrawal to Egypt, the Middle East Commandos were disbanded and Smiley returned to his now mechanised regiment for action in Iraq, Syria and Persia (as it then was). After a bad bout of malaria, Smiley got himself included in a volunteer draft of two hundred for the Western Desert where, from March '42 to the Battle of Alamein, he was almost constantly in action. After Alamein, to his chagrin, his unit was withdrawn from the pursuit and sent back to Cairo where he had the unwelcome news that they were to be posted back to Syria. This was too much and he was only too glad when Billy McLean suggested that he might like to become involved in a cloak and dagger operation somewhere in the Balkans.
It was thus that he and Billy became the first SOE officers to penetrate into Albania. There follows a condensed chapter, fully described in Albanian Assignment, of their adventures culminating in their withdrawal to Bari where they were coolly greeted by the very left-wing SOE office. A similar fate awaited the Mihailovic BLOs when they too were withdrawn from Jugoslavia, thus ensuring that both countries would be subjected to Communist rule for the next forty or so years. It was in Albania, during his two missions, that two of Smiley's irregular friends joined him -- Julian Amery and Peter Kemp. Also between missions, he was a resident of 'Tara', that famous flat in Cairo, run by the Countess Sophie Tarnowska, where bonds of lasting friendship fructified -- famous names such as Paddy Leigh Fermor, Billy Moss, Xan Fielding, Peter Kemp, Billy McLean and Rowland Winn, all of whom, except Paddy, turned up in Thailand.
The chapters on Thailand are fascinating as this story has not previously been recounted in Smiley's earlier books. The main tasks in this classic SOE type 18-clause brief were the organisation and training of the guerrillas, selection of DZs, construction of landing strips, sending intelligence reports on Japanese dispositions, details of roads, railways and bridges, location of POW camps, helping evaders and the last, but an important one -- 'At all times to remain clandestine and on no account to take action against the Japanese'. A brief which some of the more 'gung-ho' BLOs in Western Europe found difficult to carry out, often with disastrous results. But Smiley stuck to his task with efficiency.
His first mission was going well but was cut short by the premature explosion of his booby-trapped brief case in which he was packing documents. This left him with terribly burned hands, face, arms and knees. For thirteen days with no proper medicines, apart from morphia which did not work, he was cared for in the jungle until Force 136 sent in a Dakota to evacuate him to India. At one stage the pain was so bad that he tried to get hold of his revolver but his faithful wireless operator Sgt. W. 'Gunner' Collins removed it. After a spell of convalescance with the Wavells, during which the atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan, he flew back to the same strip from which he had been evacuated. There he and his fellow BLOs were faced with the task of rescuing POWs without knowing what response the Japanese would make to the appearance of sole British officers demanding their surrender. The matter-of-fact way in which Smiley describes these events are masterpieces of British understatement.
When the war came to an end one might have thought that Smiley had had enough. He got back to England in January '46 and, after a course at the Staff College, he was posted as assistant Military Attache to our embassy in Warsaw. After being declared 'persona non grata', he spent a year on secondment to MI6 before once more, in 1949, becoming involved in clandestine activities -- this time to train Albanians in an endeavour to overthrow the Enver Hoxha communist regime. Alas, all their efforts were betrayed by Kim Philby. There followed more regimental duty and another military attache posting to Sweden before a final three-year tour in Oman to command the Sultan's Armed Forces.
Throughout the book there are flashes of dry humour in this account of the wartime activities of this strong, brave and disciplined 'Irregular Regular'.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1994|
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