Charles Glass, former chief Middle East correspondent for ABC News, uses his considerable research and storytelling skills to uncover the little-known story of SOE (Special Operations Executive) agents George and John Starr.
American readers may be unfamiliar with the SOE, a volunteer organization sometimes called “Churchill’s secret army.” With secret headquarters on Baker Street, not far from today’s Sherlock Holmes Museum, the SOE recruited ordinary men and women to parachute into Nazi-occupied countries including France, Denmark and the Netherlands. There they braved danger on a daily basis, working with local resistance groups to conduct sabotage and collect intelligence. As the SOE’s French section head, Maurice Buckmaster, said, “It was no use trying to do things by the book. There was no book.”
Using newly declassified documents and family archives, Charles Glass focuses on the wartime experiences of two SOE agents, brothers George and John Starr. As head of the WHEELWRIGHT circuit, George Starr operated in southwest France, where he played a key role in helping to delay the Nazi arrival in Normandy following the Allied invasion. John Starr operated primarily in Burgundy. But in July 1943 he was betrayed by a double agent and arrested. After attempting to escape, he was wounded, tortured and imprisoned at Gestapo counterespionage headquarters in Paris. He was later sent to concentration camps, where he managed to survive.
While They Fought Alone may read like a thriller, the enormous toll that the war took on George and John Starr is palpable. As we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019, this book is a timely reminder of what it took to defeat tyranny.