Five weeks after my second birthday, at around 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon while having tea at my family home in London, Adolf Hitler exploded into my life. He decided to send 348 bombers – Heinkels, Dorniers and Junkers, plus 617 Messerschmitts forming a block 20 miles wide and filling 800 square miles of sky - to kill me. He didn’t succeed, but by the end of the war 60,000 British civilians were not so lucky. Until the middle of 1944 there were more British civilian deaths than military. I do not profess memory of the start of the Blitz, but I do remember the end of it – and the aftermath.
This experience makes me a sponge for anything to do with World War II – and there is never a shortage of subject matter. My latest read has been Jennet Conant’s The Irregulars.
I found Conant’s work engrossing. I had difficulty putting it down and almost read it at a sitting. The work is essentially a biography of Roald Dahl. Had it been advertised as such, it would have never left the store as I always found his writing a little quirky. But it is so much more than that. It is the story of a very attractive, wounded flying ace (Roald Dahl), who is sent to the British Embassy in Washington in 1942.
He graduates from Air Attaché to intelligence agent whose sole purpose is to infiltrate the rarefied air of Georgetown society and use it as a springboard into US government circles. He achieves this by wooing the women and wowing the men with the ultimate aim of influencing decisions in England’s favor.
In the process of depicting this, Conant introduces us to everybody who is anybody in World War II America. Dahl’s nefarious sexual exploits are described with dignity and charm, and are never sordid. According to Conant, all of the agents were extremely handsome and charming, which tended to pall over time. But then; perhaps they were. This story of deceit, duplicity and moral ambiguity is meticulously researched and beautifully written, and I will certainly be seeking out other work by this very talented lady.
If it never occurred to you that Great Britain had spies in America during the Second World War, I urge you to read this and be amazed. Whether you invest $18.45 in Amazon, or borrow it from your local library, get this book. You will not regret it.