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BBC Radio 4: Being Winston Print E-mail

By Andy Walker
BBC 4 Today Programme

BBC.COM, Friday 4 November 2011—Richard Burton and Albert Finney are among the actors Warren Clarke will be emulating when he plays Winston Churchill in a new West End production, Three Days in May, but what is it like to take on the role of Britain's wartime leader.

"I'm a devotee of the man. I think he's the greatest Englishman probably who ever lived." So says the actor Robert Hardy, who has played Winston Churchill on no fewer than seven occasions.

Initially Hardy, who had met Churchill while playing in Hamlet with Richard Burton, thought it "an absurd and inappropriate idea" to accept the role.

But after "several very good lunches" with the producer Richard Broke he was, he recalls, "over-persuaded" to take the part.

The result was a magisterial piece of television. In eight hour-long episodes, Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, detailed Churchill's time on the back benches during the late 1920s and 30s, chronicling his dire warnings about the twin dangers of Hitler and appeasement.

Hardy's charismatic performance was the centrepiece of a narrative that was at once detailed, dramatic and didactic.

Read more...
 
Book Review in The Spectator: "A Daughter's Tale" Print E-mail
At home in the corridors of power
By Philip Ziegler

A Daughter's Tale: The Memoir of Winston and Clementine Churchill's Youngest Child, By Mary Soames
Doubleday, 402pp, £25

THE SPECTATOR, 24 September 2011—To be the daughter of an enormously powerful man must always be an enthralling if sometimes daunting experience. To be close to that father when, almost single-handed, he is shaping the destinies of the nation, if not the world, is to be uniquely privileged. Mary Soames took no part in the decision-making that was happening above her head, but she was singularly well placed to sense what was going on and to understand the man who was riding the storm with such courage and aplomb.

She was much younger than her siblings, her father was absorbed in his Herculean task, her mother knew that her first responsibility must be to her husband. Mary Soames was therefore a solitary child, but she never felt neglected and was incapable of self-pity.

She spent a happy youth in the family home of Chartwell, broken by sojourns in Admiralty House and No. 11 Downing Street, where she distinguished herself by pouring water over the policeman on duty outside the door (a wholly uncharacteristic piece of mischief in a life marked throughout by generosity and consideration for others). She was present at the critical debate when Neville Chamberlain was hounded from office and the way cleared for Winston Churchill to take the lead. From then on she was near the heart of everything:

It was now that my love and admiration for my father became enhanced by an increasing element of hero-worship. I saw how people turned to him in confident hope; and my own daughterly affection became entwined with all the emotions I felt as a young, patriotic Englishwoman.

Read more...
 
Was Churchill 'Hoodwinked' Over Tito? Print E-mail
If Only It Were So Simple

By David Stafford

Finest Hour 153

Professor Stafford is the author of Churchill and Secret Service and related books on wartime intelligence.

Hoodwinking Churchill: Tito's Great Confidence Trick, by Peter Batty. Shepheard-Wlawyn, hardbound, illus. 384 pages, $42.95, Amazon $32.64.

What is this book about? Simply that President Tito of Yugoslavia, who died in 1980, was "the man who, during World War II... hoodwinked Britain's staunchly anti-communist Prime Minister into giving his full backing to the communist Partisans and cutting all aid to the anti-communist forces resisting the Germans in Yugoslavia.... Churchill's decision was based on information provided by two trusted advisers, Fitzroy Maclean and William Deakin, who simply passed on without verification what Tito told them. The deception was compounded by a communist mole at SOE headquarters in Cairo who withheld or doctored information from liaison officers with the anti-communist leader, Draza Mihailovic." Without Churchill's support, the blurb tells us, Tito would not have overcome his political opponents to emerge as the country's leader, and Yugoslavs would have been spared over forty years of harsh communist rule.

If only it were so simple. Remove Churchill, and three more people from the complex situation that was wartime Yugoslavia, and all would have been radically different.

The author is a British journalist and TV producer. His motive for writing the book comes from a bust-up with the BBC over a documentary he made about Tito at the time of the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s—which was, he claims, crudely and savagely re-edited behind his back in order to protect the received "myth" of Tito as the great Partisan hero, as well as the reputation of the late Sir Fitzroy Maclean.

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Romney’s Churchill Gaffe: A Small But Not a Large Clang Print E-mail

Writing for Business Insider on September 29th, Grace Wyler correctly reports a Churchill misquote by presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Defending himself from charges that he is a "flip-flopper," Wyler writes, Romney confused "the Brit every Republican loves with the Brit every Republican loves to hate."

Romney said: "In the private sector, if you don't change your view when the facts change, well you'll get fired for being stubborn and stupid. Winston Churchill said, 'When facts change, I change too, madam.'"

Wyler correctly notes that this was said by John Maynard Keynes, "the British economist whose theories about government intervention in the economy is reviled by conservatives everywhere." (Keynes's actual words were: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?")

We heard Romney's remark with only a small clang, instead of the large one we usually hear when Churchill is misquoted—because, while Romney had the attribution wrong, he had Churchill's sentiments right.

Churchill changed parties twice (effectively placing himself against some of the people, all of the time). He even wrote an article defending himself: "Consistency in Politics" (Nash's Pall Mall, July 1927, reprinted in his book Thoughts and Adventures): "The only way a man can remain consistent amid changing circumstances is to change with them while preserving the same dominating purpose."

A quarter century later, chided for changing his mind in the House of Commons, Churchill retorted: "My views are a harmonious process which keeps them in relation to the current movements of events." (5 May 1952).

When the present Queen was crowned Churchill mused over his diehard support for her uncle, Edward VIII, who had abdicated in 1936 in favor of his brother, George VI, Britain's wartime sovereign: "I'm glad I was wrong. We could not have had a better King. And now we have this splendid Queen." (June 1953).

The main reason Churchill "flip-flopped" so many times was the extraordinary length of his political career: fifty years on the scene. When after the war, the Labour Party wished further to curb the power of the House of Lords, Prime Minister Attlee quoted what Churchill, now a Conservative, had said about the Lords in 1911, as a Liberal, Churchill had called the Lords "one-sided, hereditary, unpurged, unrepresentative, irresponsible, absentee."

Churchill replied: "Really, I do believe there ought to be a statute of limitations on my remarks. I'm willing to be held responsible for anything I've said for the past thirty years, but before that I think a veil should be drawn over the past."

How many politicians last long enough to make that particular request?

--Richard M. Langworth, Editor, Finest Hour

Quotations from Finest Hour 151 and the author's book Churchill By Himself.

 
A Daughter's Tale: The Memoir Of Winston And Clementine Churchill's Youngest Child, by Lady Mary Soames. Part 1 Print E-mail
From her private diaries, Winston Churchill's daughter Lady Soames gives a vivid account of London society at war.

By Lady Soames

[Editors Note: The Daily Mail incorrectly refers to our Patron as "Lady Mary Soames," when, as she herself has often pointed out, she is "Lady Soames," having acquired the title by marriage rather than inheritance.]

THE DAILY MAIL, 3 September 2011—It was September 3, 1939. There was a blue summer sky with white clouds floating slowly by and I had made plans to ride with friends in the country.

At 11.15 came the brief statement by Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister. No reply had been received to Britain's ultimatum that Hitler withdraw from Poland, he said, and, consequently, we were at war with Germany. I found it impossible to believe.

There must have been five or six of us there, subdued and moved by the announcement. Then we set off in a gallop.

This gesture of sheer theatre was the perfect touch – releasing tension and emotions. But I believe it marked the end of our world as we had known it.

During these early days of the war I divided my energies between helping with the major task of sewing blackout curtains and doing four-hour shifts as a telephonist at the ambulance headquarters in Westerham, near our home at Chartwell in Kent.

My father Winston Churchill had become First Lord of the Admiralty and it was planned, to my delight, that I should live in London with my parents. Just short of my 18th birthday, we moved into Admiralty House, between Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade.

I started as soon as possible at Queen's College, Harley Street, joining a part-time course in English Literature, History and French. I also enrolled with the Red Cross making bandages: this was a severe test of my patriotism, as my natural aptitude with needle and thread is zero.

I much preferred my shifts at a Forces canteen at Victoria Station (except when one of my superiors took the unsporting view that I talked too much to the customers and planted me behind the steaming tea and coffee urns, from where I emerged rather crossly, and with my hairdo predictably ruined). I was unashamedly happy and excited by what I regarded as my first taste of 'grown-up' life – the badges of which were a telephone in my room and a latchkey.

'It was now that my love and admiration for my father became enhanced by an element of heroworship. My affection became inextricably entwined with all the emotions I felt as a young, patriotic Englishwoman'

London social life was lively – theatres were full, there were plenty of nightclubs and often we would dine where we could dance. The Savoy, the Dorchester, the Cafe de Paris and Kettner's were favourites.

Read more...
 
A Daughter's Tale: The Memoir Of Winston And Clementine Churchill's Youngest Child, by Lady Mary Soames. Part 2 Print E-mail
From her private diaries, Lady Mary Soames recalls how she feared her father Winston Churchill would have a seizure after a row with her brother.

By Lady Soames

[Editors Note: The Daily Mail incorrectly refers to our Patron as "Lady Mary Soames," when, as she herself has often pointed out, she is "Lady Soames," having acquired the title by marriage rather than inheritance.]

THE DAILY MAIL, 10 September 2011—In Part 1, Lady Soames recalled dancing the night away in wartime London, listening spellbound to her father Winston Churchill's speeches and witnessing his grief at his electoral defeat in 1945.

Here, in the second extract from her touching new book, she looks back on family traumas, narrow escapes and her unusual courtship...

My father Winston had fallen in love at once and forever with Chartwell Manor, which stands on a hilltop commanding the most sensational view to the south over the Weald of Kent.

Below, the hillside falls away to a lake, fed by a spring and alongside the valley ran a wide belt of beech woods.
Blushing bride: Mary accompanied by her father, Winston Churchill, on the day of her wedding to Christopher Soames in 1947

Blushing bride: Mary accompanied by her father, Winston Churchill, on the day of her wedding to Christopher Soames in 1947

I was nearly two years old when our family moved in and my first memory is snapshot-clear and must be from that summer of 1924.

I am lying in my big pram under the great yew tree on the lawn in front of the arcaded windows of the new dining room. Woken from my mid-morning siesta, I am greatly bored.

I am really too big now for the pram and start jiggling, and – securely held by my harness – manage to rock my 'boat'.

Now I try a back-and-forth movement: this is great fun, except the pram pitches forward on to its handle, and I slide down, held awkwardly suspended by my straps.

Suddenly, grown-ups clutching white table napkins are running towards me – a luncheon party was in progress and my plight had been observed: I am rescued, taken into the dining room, consoled and made much of. I think dining-room life is very agreeable and plan to join it as soon as may be.

There was a wide age gap between myself and older siblings: Sarah was nearly eight years old, Randolph 11 and Diana 13 when I appeared on the family scene. I found myself alternately in the roles of new cuddly toy and real little bore.

Read more...
 
Emery and Wendy Reves "La Pausa" For Sale for $56 million Print E-mail

WORLD FOCUS

By Frank Shatz

According to The New York Times, the asking prize is $56 million and one of the potential buyers is said to be the Chanel Foundation.

La Pausa, a chateau of "sophisticated simplicity" was built on the French Riviera for Coco Chanel, the world-famous fashion designer, by her lover, the Duke of Westminster. Subsequently, in 1953, La Pausa had become the home of Emery and Wendy Reves.

With its spectacular views of Monte Carlo and the Mediterranean, five-acres of exotic gardens, pool, seven bedrooms and a vast reception hall, as well as its long and colorful history involving some of the world's best known artists, musicians, writers and political personalities, as guests, La Pausa, is a unique property.

It went on the market as part of the estate bequeathed by Wendy Reves. According to her original will composed and signed in September 1989, at her Chalet L'Ermitage in Glion, Switzerland, she directed that "40% of the income of the original, compiled, invested capital should be given to the Wendy & Emery Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William & Mary." The institute, she has endowed.

Having an astute business mind, in her will Wendy instructed the executor to hire Sotheby's or Christie's to sell La Pausa dispose of furnishing, artworks and decorative items. "Money is our objective," she wrote, "to be added to the capital of the Reves Foundation."


Read more about Churchill and Reves at www.winstonchurchill.org.


She added: "Attention: Every item at La Pausa, has value...Even the antique kitchen utensils plus a marble table in the kitchen, which I was offered $40,000 from one of the great chefs of France."

She believed that items auctioned off from La Pausa would bring premium prizes. "They are associated with guests who visited or stayed at La Pausa, such as Winston Churchill, Gen. De Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, Greta Garbo, Somerset Maugham, and many others," she used to say.

Read more...
 
Emery and Wendy Reves "La Pausa" Goes on Sale Print E-mail

By Colin Randall in Paris

THE TELEGRAPH, 8 April 2006—Avilla on the French Riviera built by the Second Duke of Westminster for his lover, Coco Chanel, and later the setting for banquets attended by royalty, statesmen and film stars, has been put up for sale.

With its spectacular views of Monte Carlo and the Mediterranean, an acre-and-a-half of exotic gardens, pool, seven bedrooms and vast reception hall, La Pausa - as the house was known in its heyday - is expected by its present owner, a German businessman, to fetch around £7 million.

As La Pausa, built in the belle epoque style for which Roquebrune Cap Martin became renowned, the property was a favourite retreat of Sir Winston Churchill, a close friend of Emery and Wendy Reves, who bought it from Chanel in 1953.

The beautiful surroundings also fired Sir Winston's artistic imagination, inspiring his painting The View of Menton and Italy from La Pausa. It is now known as Villa Egerton, apparently the choice of subsequent British owners.


Read more about Churchill and Reves at www.winstonchurchill.org.


But it was during Chanel's ownership that the house enjoyed its early celebrity. The Duke chose the location while sailing the Riviera with the couturier in his yacht.

To please his mistress, the duke bought five acres just outside Roquebrune Cap Martin in 1927 and commissioned a young architect, Robert Streitz, to design the house.

Chanel made repeated trips from Paris to supervise the work, paying such attention to the detail of its interior design that she insisted on the installation of a replica of the stone staircase she remembered from the French orphanage where she grew up.

Read more...
 
Video: "Three Days in May" Actor Warren Clarke Given Personal Tour of Churchill Archives Print E-mail

THE CAMBRIDGE NEWS, 7 September 2011—Actor Warren Clarke got a personal perspective on his latest role during a tour of the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge yesterday.

The Dalziel and Pascoe star is at Cambridge Arts Theatre this week, playing Winston Churchill in Three Days in May, a new political thriller about the critical period in May 1940 when Britain teetered on the brink of giving in to Hitler.

Yesterday, Clarke was joined by co-star Jeremy Clyde – who plays Lord Halifax – for a tour of the purpose-built archives centre at Churchill College, which houses around 3,000 boxes of Churchill's letters and documents.

Treasures shown to the actors by the centre's director, Allen Packwood, included original speeches, rare photos and papers from the War Cabinet.

Clarke told the News it was a challenge playing the man voted Greatest Briton: "It's challenging because people know who he is.

"They have seen him, and can still see him in footage. They can hear and see him making speeches. It's a challenge to get close to the man, but every role is a challenge and, if it's not, you shouldn't be doing it.

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In Theaters Now: Three Days in May Print E-mail
Mike Scialom is mesmerised by a tour-de-force performance from Warren Clarke as Winston Churchill.

THE CAMBRIDGE NEWS, 6 September 2011—A BELL tolls in the opening scene of Three Days in May. Five men are at prayer in front of a map of Europe. A sixth, the narrator - Winston Churchill's aide de camp, Jock Colville (James Alper) - tells us that Great Britain's darkest hour is at hand.

It is the end of May, 1940: the enemy is at the gate. On May 26, French premier Paul Reynard flies to London with proposals for negotiations which he puts to Churchill. Dunkirk is the backdrop to the decision that must be taken - does the British Government press on with its resistance to Nazism or does it sue for peace?

Writer Ben Brown suggests, via his interpretation of Colville's diaries, that this was the moment when Churchill wobbled. I'm not sure that this revisionist interpretation of events is entirely accurate because, although it was certainly the moment when Churchill might have wobbled, it's not actually clear he did. What he certainly did was give the appearance he could be up for a bit of wobbling so as to snare his key opponent, the foreign secretary of the day, Lord Halifax, who was chief cheerleader for the appeasers.

How much of this deception was acting on Churchill's part and how much of it was a genuine period of self-doubt is all about interpretation, and conveying this is a task that would prove to be the better of most actors, but not so here at the Arts Theatre this week, thanks to the superb casting of Jeremy Clyde as Lord Halifax, only bested by Warren Clarke as Churchill.

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Winston Churchill's "Toyshop" Print E-mail
Vale's role designing WWII weapons for 'Winston Churchill's Toyshop' – or how one man was arrested at gunpoint for throwing bazooka shells around

THE BUCKS HERALD, Tuesday 30 August 2011—A LONG Crendon man who was arrested as a child during the Second World War for playing around with bazooka shells is to give a talk on Bucks' global contribution to weapons of mass destruction.

Between 1939 and 1945, just off the High Street in Whitchurch, weapons were designed and tested which eventually helped the allies win the Second World War.

Now years' later Gordon Rogers, 79, who gives astronomy lectures to schools and societies, is planning to talk about what went on in the building which still stands today and is known as The Firs.

Mr Rogers has always been interested in explosives and made the front page of the Bucks Herald in 1944 when he was arrested at gun point, aged 12, for throwing bazooka shells in Aldbury with three friends.

Despite receiving an official warning he was not put off from playing with weapons and six months later was caught breaking into a storeroom in Whitchurch – later known as Winston Churchill's Toy Shop.

Workers at the secret base came up with fuses which could be timed to wait days before detonating, depth charges to sink submarines and attempted to create bullet firing helmets.

One of the men who worked at the site used his research to help design the trigger for the Nagasaki atomic bomb which was detonated in 1945.

Read more...
 
Chartwell hosts Musical Salute to the Royal Air Force Print E-mail
X Factor finalist Tracy Solomon among the talent taking to the stage at the Westerham concert

By Jenna Pudelek, chief reporter

KENT NEWS, Friday, August 26, 2011 — Chartwell the country home of Sir Winston Churchill is set to host a tribute concert and aerial display to the Royal Air Force.

The Musical Salute to the Royal Air Force takes place in the tranquil gardens of the National Trust property in Westerham next weekend (September 3-4).

Audience members have been promised a "massively challenging and unique musical programme" played by the Central Band of the RAF.

The Spitfire Choir, which is made up of sixteen personnel, 50 Air Training Corps Cadets, the narration by the RAF's Presentation Team, an opera singer, Fiona Howell, and a contemporary singer, X Factor finalist Tracy Solomon.

Aerial displays will be provided by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the RAF's Chinook demonstration and, only on Saturday, The Blades Aerobatic Team.

Andy Pawsey, creative director and former RAF Squadron Leader, said: "Our events will always seek to combine different presentation elements with the highest production values. We want to tell stories, to engage with the spectators, we want to make them laugh and make them cry and leave with a little more knowledge of the work of our brave servicemen and women."

Read more...
 
In Economic Turmoil, U.S. Needs a Leader Like Churchill Print E-mail

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst

CNN.COM, 8 August 2011 - Before returning to the States this weekend, I and others in my family spent enthralled hours at the Churchill War Rooms in London, along with the new museum in his honor next door. Now, there was a leader! There was a man whose example shouts out to us now in our hour of trouble.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the turmoil of this past week has sparked cries for those in political power to step up and for God's sake, lead. Fears are spreading across Europe as well as the U.S. that not only are our economies teetering but our politicians are ineffectual.

In their summit a short while ago, leaders of European democracies promised they had fixed the problems of their weakest player, Greece. Instead, their solution was so timid that fears of default have spread to Italy and Spain, the third and fourth largest economies in the euro zone. In the U.S., President Obama and Congressional leaders assured us that their budget deal would put us on a safe path. Instead, markets plunged and Standard & Poors stripped our county of its AAA credit rating for the first time ever.

Read more...
 
H.M. Queen Elizabeth II Honours Bletchley Park Print E-mail

Finest Hour 152








BLETCHLEY PARK, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, JULY 15TH — The Queen unveiled a memorial sculpture by artist Charles Gurrey to wartime codebreakers during a historic visit to Bletchley Park today. In her dedication Her Majesty said:

'We gather here to commemorate the work of that remarkable group of people.

"It is impossible to overstate the deep sense of admiration, gratitude, and national debt that we owe to all those men and, especially, women. They were called to this place in the greatest of secrecy—so much so that some of their families will never know the full extent of their contribution—as they set about on a seemingly impossible mission; a massive challenge in the field of cryptanalysis: for the first time pitting technology against technology. And so, these huts and buildings became the centre of a world-wide web of intelligence communications, spanning the Commonwealth and further afield.

'This was the place of geniuses such as Alan Turing. But these wonderfully clever mathematicians, language graduates and engineers were complemented by people with different sets of skills, harnessing that brilliance through methodical, unglamorous, hard slog. Thus the secret of Bletchley's success was that it became a home to all the talents.

"We can be proud of the legacy of Bletchley: proud that Colossus was the first computer, and that the British people, supported by our friends and allies, rose to the challenge. At heart we have always been a nation of problem solvers. This natural aptitude was taken to new heights by the emergency of war, showing that necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and that battles can be won, and many lives saved, by using brainpower as well as firepower; deliberation as well as force.

Read more...
 
Churchill's 'Secret Agent' Recounts WWII Exploits Print E-mail
Frenchman Robert Maloubier was an agent in Churchill's Special Operations Executive, sent behind enemy lines to rout German forces and which, unknown to many French, had a key role in the resistance.

By Devorah Lauter

LOS ANGELES TIMES, August 8, 2011 - Reporting from Houilles, France— Robert Maloubier likes to tell people he is a retired accountant. That he studied finance in college, that he had a quiet life, that he stopped working at 66.

He can barely get the last words out without a chuckle that pulls up the ends of his bushy white mustache so it curls around his cheekbones.

"Oh, I love doing that," he says with a satisfied sigh. "Nobody knows about me here."

The truth is Maloubier, 88, never went to college. It's also hard to say whether he ever really retired, though he admits that when he turned 80 he had to stop rollerblading and flying his plane.

As far as a quiet life goes, he hasn't had one and he hopes it stays that way.

There are a few other things people in this quiet suburb west of Paris don't know about him: He is trained in close combat, sabotage, guerrilla tactics, parachuting and underwater warfare.

Maloubier is one of the few surviving French agents from Winston Churchill's "secret army," the Special Operations Executive created in 1940 with orders to "put Europe ablaze" and defeat Nazi forces behind enemy lines.

The British army awarded him the rank of captain and the Distinguished Service Order for his derring-do after he parachuted into his occupied homeland in 1943 and again in 1944. Maloubier's wartime feats include leading a band of French resistance fighters who blew up seven bridges in 24 hours to stall the advancing German army.

Nearly 70 years later, most French still don't know much about the role the British played in the resistance in their country. Most believe the wartime narrative forged by Gen. Charles de Gaulle, that the resistance was an entirely French endeavor.

Until recently, there had been no major French translation of the numerous English-language books and autobiographies dealing with the Special Operations Executive. In the last few years, that has changed, and this year a French-language memoir, "Churchill's Secret Agent," by Maloubier, hit bookstores. It is perhaps the only one of its kind by a Frenchman.

Maloubier writes with the fast-paced, colloquial tone of someone speaking out loud, and with a sense of humor that shrugs at death. He tells of parachuting into occupied France, of bombing a German naval vessel, of stockpiling weapons in preparation for D-Day. He writes of escaping the Nazis' clutches by pretending to be dimwittedly eager to follow instructions, a trick he learned at spy school. (As soon as the trusting SS guard gave an opening, Maloubier knocked him down, hurled a motorcycle at him and made a run for it.)

After the war, Maloubier helped train the French secret service, create the French version of the Navy SEALs and design the now-classic archetypal diving watch, the Fifty Fathoms. Swashbuckling through Africa, the Middle East and East Asia, he was a bush pilot in Gabon and worked as deputy director of an oil company.

His small house in Houilles sports abundant flowers at the front door. He enjoys reminiscing but also relishes discussion of contemporary problems. The war in Libya, he says, is "romantic," with rebels shooting wasted bullets into the sky. "We would never have been able to do that!" he says, laughing.

He worries about young people who spend their lives "lying down" in front of video screens. But he still has the optimism of the teenager who set off to fight the Nazis, and he remembers every detail as if it were yesterday.

These days, he has difficulty walking and is slowed by a weak lung — damaged by an SS bullet — but he nevertheless exudes an undimmed zest for adventure.

"Modern life is about having to foresee everything: take zero risks, and live from your cradle to your grave," says Maloubier, who generally goes by Bob. "But there's nothing worse than that.

"Even though man wants to absolutely know what tomorrow will be made of, the excitement of life is from not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow is another day. That's all ... something different. Something will happen, must happen. Otherwise, it's going to be dull. Life can only be made of unpredictable things."

*

The Special Operations Executive is best-known in Britain for fostering resistance in Axis-occupied areas. In France, its agents and underground French fighters held off Nazi troops and destroyed key parts of enemy infrastructure, especially in advance of the D-Day invasion. Its members also trained De Gaulle's secret service and contributed decisively to the liberation of several regions in France.

But in the minds of most French, two major groups were behind the resistance: De Gaulle's Free French Forces and French paramilitary units led by communist patriots, said historian Jean-Louis Cremieux-Brilhac, who was a member of De Gaulle's London-based provisional government.

"But in reality, there was a third driving motor: the British," Cremieux-Brilhac says. "It's an idea that hasn't completely penetrated French opinion."

The knowledge gap is no coincidence.

"Gen. De Gaulle insisted on affirming that France was liberated by the French themselves, with the help of the Allies, and he didn't want to highlight the important role of the SOE," which sent about 400 agents of various nationalities to France, Cremieux-Brilhac said.

Maloubier, born in a Paris suburb and raised by French parents, would appear an unlikely Special Operations Executive candidate. When the war broke out, he was still in high school and dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot for De Gaulle. But his parents were multilingual, Anglo-Saxon-loving professors who had spent years in New York and England, and shared with their children their admiration for Churchill.

After the French surrendered to the Nazis, Maloubier's parents encouraged him to join the resistance. But he couldn't make it to London, where the resistance leadership was based, so he fled to Algeria to join Allied forces. There, he encountered an SOE agent who recruited him to join the force.

"Every Frenchman who went to fight for another army was of course completely contrary to [De Gaulle's] politics, and he was absolutely right," Maloubier says. "But at our age, we had no political clue."

After parachuting into occupied France, he trained, organized and armed French bush fighters known as "Maquis." On orders from London, they bombed a German submarine tender and an aviation gear factory, as well as numerous bridges. His men had "to be prepared for everything," he says, and played a crucial role in stockpiling British weapons dropped into France via parachute in anticipation of D-Day.

Maloubier says the underground fighters included some "nobles" but were mostly workers who had less to lose.

"I was around people who were untrained, and badly trained, but they wanted to fight," he says.

Their eagerness to take on the Germans wasn't enough to wash away a certain bitterness he felt after flying to London between missions.

There, "everyone wanted to fight. There was a wartime climate. The atmosphere was completely different," he says. People lived in subway stations because so many homes were bombed. "But it was also very gay. People would go to nightclubs and tan in Hyde Park.... And still, there wasn't a single family that hadn't lost someone."

He met "extraordinary" people there, including SOE spies such as Violette Szabo, a beautiful and skilled agent who was captured during a mission and died in a Nazi concentration camp.

Maloubier says he is driven to keep writing in order to tell their stories, collected over the years like the antiques that fill his home. Weapons from the Middle East and Asia hang on the wall of his living room, which is lighted with lamps made of 100-year-old samovars once used to brew Russian tea on the Orient Express.

"I always say that in life there is never a dull moment, and that there's always something, that...." He takes a deep breath and continues. "That makes you live again."

Lauter is a special correspondent.

For the entire article along with photos please visit: © 2011, Los Angeles Times

 
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