A book of war, danger and courage, this is a non- fiction book which makes a real impact by the power of its truth. It shows how a son and his supporters can track down the record of a man whose experiences in war are complex and awe inspiring, with the help of the woman who worked behind the scenes in the same theatre of war. These two people are remarkable in every way, in their bravery and commitment to each other during so many courageous acts, and ultimately their modesty in revealing the story to those who came afterwards. As Tim Clark, their son, seeks to discover the truth from the people who remember and the limited paperwork that survives, he visits some of the places where his parents spent the most significant part of their war, and experience the events that may well have shaped the battle for Italy. This is a book of almost unbelievable bravery, ability and missions that would challenge the most experienced warrior, undertaken by a twenty year old agent. Meanwhile, a young woman who received so many notes of his feelings was fighting in her own way, maintaining the communications that saved lives, living in a disputed territory. At stake was not only the immediate battle but the fate of a country teetering on the edge of civil war. This book is a well timed reminder that when so much was at stake, the fate of many lives was in the hands of young people like this couple. I was pleased to be asked to read and review this cogently written book.
This book begins with the gradual revelation of a story. As objects and documents are discovered, including weapons, the author realises that his father, Bob Clark, has far more to tell about his wartime experiences. It is not a straightforward process to gather the truth; as with many of his parents’ generation, comments and episodes slip out, people are mentioned, contexts hinted at rather than a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Attendance at Special Forces reunions, close friends of the same age who know some things, and the occasional session of openness for a specific event give tantalising glimpses of a story of battles and missions. While the family are told a little, at the time of his father’s death Tim is left with only five pages of notes of actual facts , and it is from this he must track down more details to flesh out the bare bones of an incredible truth. While he is indefatigable in his hunting through the National Archives and following slim leads, it is only when his mother’s memories and collection of notes and letters appear that he can begin to plot the whereabouts of his parents as the British forces invaded and made good their progress in Italy. As the Germans pulled back they still committed outrages against civilians, and fought to keep their influence in the country.
As the letters between his parents emerge, the quick events of life and death in the area are emphasised. Bob wrote “Everything in the world goes right when I am with you. I have never felt so happy as when I was with you.” In the dozens of names in this book, in the sometimes confusing descriptions of times and places, the love of these two young people shines through. I must admit there were times that I wished for more words between the facts, as I was left in no doubt that every name, place, piece of equipment was researched and verified. However, this book represents a tireless search by Tim Clark for the story of his parents first meeting, getting together, and loyal support even when there was some doubt. Together with Cook, Clark’s exhaustive search, visits to the sites and meeting with those who survive have contributed to an incredible record in this book of lives lived in the heat of war. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the work of the Special Operations Executive in Italy, as it is a source of much information and interest.
I am really honoured to be kicking off this tour for this special book. Last Thursday Northernvicar and I went to the local theatre to see a special evening commemorating the D Day landings, with two authors speaking about their books, some wartime songs, and a dance specially devised for the occasion. Together with the coverage from France I found it all very moving, and reminded me of my father who was involved in the event. Northernvicar bought me one of the books, so watch this space for a review of that – eventually!