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June 1, 2008

The Englishman’s Daughter

Ben Macintyre - ISBN – 9781587242328 (2001)

As with The Napoleon of Crime, this book is no longer in print. As well, it is a superbly researched and fascinating book. One wonders just where Macintyre gets his leads and ideas, but this is now the third book I have read by the man, and they are all outstanding.

The Englishman’s Daughter is an interesting, true story of WW I vintage. A small contingent of English soldiers was trapped behind enemy lines in the small, remote, medieval French village of Villeret, and was hidden by the townsfolk for several years. During that time a few were out and about, some were confined to attics, etc., and one spent all of every day in a wardrobe!

They were a conundrum for the villagers, because the Tommies were allies, yet the penalty for hiding them was severe. The German occupiers were not at all kindly, and the officer in charge of their village was a particularly mean, treacherous and paranoid SOB.

As fate would have it, one of the “keenest” of the Englishmen, well educated, suave and persuasive—and an officer—fell in love with the most attractive young woman in the village, with whom he sired a baby: the Englishman’s daughter. Most of the villagers were unhappy to mortified, yet they did not—then-- reveal the soldiers to the German forces.

The tale chronicles the activities of the villagers: their history, tribal culture, details of their daily existence, even their smuggling and spying, which clandestine activities would be punishable by death if discovered. It lingers over intimate details of the relationships amongst principals, and gives one a feel for the period, for life in an ancient, isolated village, and for the horrors of war—especially WW I with its trenches, poisonous gasses, ritually destructive artillery shelling, etc. It emphasized the terrible destruction of the French countryside whereupon the entire conflict took place.

One comes away with a much better understanding of the toll taken on people, the land, and especially these rural French, whose lives were eviscerated by the war and occupation. German demands upon productivity, were all consuming, and their invasion and destruction of home life was complete. As well, combatants were regularly cycled thru the village for R&R, with no consideration at all for the people from whom all sustenance was demanded. Indeed, Villeret was razed to the ground eventually, ancient castles, churches, and dwellings from the grand to the lowliest hovel.

The English were eventually betrayed, and it is widely presumed that a villager was responsible, but no one has ever concretely determined who. Nearly a century afterward it matters to the villagers, who still honor the date of execution of the Tommies as spies, led by the (now octogenarian) Englishman’s daughter! Macintyre reviews all of the possible culprits, and identifies the surprising, probable miscreant.

For those who prefer “escape reading” which is informative as well as captivating, this fits the bill.

Posted by respeto at June 1, 2008 10:40 AM