Wavell – Soldier and Statesman by
Victoria Schofield, John Murray, 2007.
£14.99. ISBN 978-0-7195-6610-3
This timely biography makes enthralling
reading as its subject is not only a
fascinatingly complex character but his
appointments in the Mediterranean, Middle
East, India and the Far East during the
Second World War were at the heart of
Britain’s war effort.
It was Wavell who masterminded our
first successes (against the Italians), who
manfully carried the burden of the loss of
Crete in 1941 and the humiliations in
Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia and Burma in
1942. He then secured India and went on to
become the architect of victory against the
Japanese, both as Commander-in-Chief and
later as the penultimate Viceroy.
Churchill and Wavell never warmed to
each other. Given the former’s notorious
intolerance, credit for Wavell not being
sacked probably falls more to the long suffering
Alanbrooke rather than the latter’s
As this superbly researched work confirms,
Wavell, while being a solidly safe pair of
hands, was also a contradictory character. At
times monosyllabic and dour, he still inspired
deep respect and affection. A family man of
simple tastes, he possessed a deep love of
literature and poetry. His anthology Other
Men’s Flowers remains a classic.
Immense power never went to his head.
Within days of his final dismissal by Attlee
from the Viceroyalty he was humbly selfcatering
in a small borrowed London flat.
A Winchester scholar, Archie Wavell’s
intelligence and practicality outweighed the
career hindrances of the loss of one eye and
not commanding his regiment – The Black
Watch – either of which would today deny
It is not just the way the author traces this
enigmatic figure’s momentous career, but
her interpretation of his qualities and
relationships that makes Wavell – Soldier and
Statesman a scholarly and compelling read.
Restless by William Boyd, Bloomsbury,
£7.99. ISBN 978-0-7475-8620-3
For his ninth novel, William Boyd has
chosen an ambitious plot which features a
mother and daughter as the principal
characters. Both women are fiercely
independent, but as the story unfolds they
come to need and respect each other as
never before. Daughter Ruth, a single
mother teaching English to foreign students,
is asked by her mother, Sal Fairchild, to read
her account of her wartime experiences.
It transpires that Sal, then Eva
Delectorskaya, a Russian emigrée living in
Paris, was recruited as a secret agent by a
spymaster called Lucas Romer. The
delectable Eva proved to be an extremely
As part of Romer’s small organisation she
operates first in Europe and then in the
United States on the periphery of William
Stephenson’s British Security Coordination.
Initially Romer’s group is
ostensibly engaged spreading anti-Nazi
propaganda to encourage US involvement.
Eva (or Sal), by now Romer’s mistress,
undertakes a mission that goes disastrously
wrong. The subsequent events and their
implications are revealed in Eva’s document.
The plot unfolds through Ruth’s firsthand
account of the present day and the
mother’s wartime experiences, in alternating
chapters. The two eras gradually knit
together as the daughter is drawn into
helping her mother confront treachery and
exact revenge in a classic denouement.
Boyd convincingly develops his two
female characters and paints a credible picture
of both wartime subterfuge and modern day
life and relationships. The result is a gripping
and highly readable work of fiction that
enhances the author’s well-deserved
Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky,
Chatto and Windus, £16.99.
While strictly a novel, Suite Francaise is more
faction than fiction. The authoress was a
Russian emigrée living in Paris in 1940 –
just as was Eva Delectorskaya in Restless.
But that is where any similarity ends. Irène
was Jewish, married with two children and
a respected writer.
Unable or unwilling to escape the Nazis,
she tried to hide in a small village in the
occupied zone and for nearly two years the
plan worked. During this time she wrote the
first two pieces (Storm in June and Dolce) of
what she intended to be a four or five-part
work describing life for the French under
the yoke of occupation.
These describe the humiliation, fear,
pain and shame suffered by ordinary people
caught up in the trauma of the period,
observed through the eyes of one who was
not only part of it, but under increasing
danger. In July 1942 she was arrested and
some five weeks later she died at Birkenau
extermination camp. Her husband was killed.
The survival of her work is in itself truly
remarkable. The manuscript, in tiny
handwriting, stayed with the girls, who were
sheltered by brave friends, but it was not until
2004 that it was first published in French.
Now translated into English, the passage
of time has done nothing to numb its
poignancy. This is a book that reads as a
personal testimony rather than as a novel.
The inclusion of Iréne’s notes and
correspondence with publishers and friends,
transports the reader back to those terrible
times and conveys both the senses of brave
optimism and underlying foreboding that
pervaded the author’s life.
This poignant work, rather than being a
depressing experience, is richly rewarding
The City of London: A Masonic Guide, by
Yasha Beresiner. Lewis Masonic. £9.99.
One would have thought that by now books
on the City of London – the ‘Square Mile’ –
would have run out of subject matter, but
this fascinating publication is a true tour de
Freemasonry and the City have had longestablished
links, not least the historic
meeting of four Lodges at the Goose and
Gridiron inn in the shadow of St Paul’s
where the world’s first Grand Lodge was
formed in 1717.
Yasha Beresiner’s book takes us down
alleyways little changed from Victorian times
revealing both their traditional historical
connections and their Masonic interest. The
Knights Templar play a strong part in the
book, particularly in the Temple area, the
traditional home of the legal profession.
The book covers 26 locations between
Freemasons’ Hall – which is not within the
City boundaries – and the Royal Exchange at
the Bank. The author says that by following
the book, the walker will take two hours to
complete the journey and travel through
2,000 years of history.
Even Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is
mentioned as part of the film was shot within
the City boundaries. The various hostelries –
the original home for Masonic Lodge
meetings – are widely mentioned (and good
stopping-off places), and this book will
interest Mason and non-Mason alike.
Yasha is a qualified guide to the City and a
Liveryman, as well as being a Past Master of
Quatuor Coronati Lodge, the Premier Lodge
of Masonic Research. As such, he has
brought a fine blend of Masonic and local
knowledge to this excellent publication.
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