It’s an honour to take part in the BlogTour for Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle. This is the third of four books being re-published by the Imperial War Museum.
In September 2019, to mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, IWM will launch a wonderful new series with four novels from their archives all set during the Second World War – Imperial War Museums Wartime Classics.
Originally published to considerable acclaim, these titles were written either during or just after the Second World War and are currently out of print. Each novel is written directly from the author’s own experience and takes the reader right into the heart of the conflict. They all capture the awful absurdity of war and the trauma and chaos of battle as well as some of the fierce loyalties and black humour that can emerge in extraordinary circumstances.
Living through a time of great upheaval, as we are today, each wartime story brings the reality of war alive in a vivid and profoundly moving way and is a timely reminder of what the previous generations experienced.
The remarkable IWM Library has an outstanding literary collection and was an integral part of Imperial War Museums from its very beginnings. Alan Jeffreys, (Senior Curator, Second World War, Imperial War Museums) searched the library collection to come up with these four launch titles, all of which deserve a new and wider audience. He has written an introduction to each novel that sets them in context and gives the wider historical background and says, ‘Researching the Wartime Classics has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my years at IWM. It’s been very exciting rediscovering these fantastic novels and helping to bring them to the wider readership they so deserve’.
Each story speaks strongly to IWM’s remit to tell the stories of those who experienced conflict first hand. They cover diverse fronts and topics – preparations for D-Day and the advance into Normandy; the war in Malaya; London during the Blitz and SOE operations in occupied Europe and each author – three men and a woman – all have fascinating back stories. These are Second World War novels about the truth of war written by those who were actually there.
Anthony Quayle was a renowned Shakespearean actor, director and film star and during the Second World War was a Special Operations Executive behind enemy lines in Albania.
About the book
A candid account of SOE operations in occupied Europe described by Andrew Roberts as ‘As well as being one of our greatest actors, Anthony Quayle was an intrepid war hero and his autobiographical novel is one of the greatest adventure stories of the Second World War. Beautifully written and full of pathos and authenticity, it brings alive the terrible moral decisions that have to be taken by soldiers under unimaginable pressures in wartime.’Review
The story or rather the writing style, especially the beginning, has a theatrical flair. Very much as if Quayle were setting the scene for the stage or the camera. This is evident even if you aren’t aware of who the author is.
Quayle makes a poignant point about liaison officers in conflicts, skirmishes or times of war. Their job during times of peace is one of mediation and go-between, but in times of conflict they often have a specific job. Convincing the natives to work with them and against the enemy.
Words like liaison sound great – very diplomatic. The truth is they are often advising native groups, such as the resistance, to commit acts that will have disastrous results for their lives, their village, town or country and the lives of their fellow countrymen. It can mean torture and/or death. When the allies go home and the liaison officer disappears, those native inhabitants still have to live and survive in possibly hostile environments.
A comparison in our era is using natives to translate and as guides in the Middle East and then leaving them high and dry in an environment that considers them to be traitors to the country.
The author describes the important brotherhood bond and the camaraderie which exists and is amplified during the war. You have to trust and rely on the person or persons next to you to have your back. They understand like no other person what every soldier is going through. It’s one of the strongest bonds that exist.
Unfortunately, just like many other novels written about WW2 by eyewitnesses, this book has slid into obscurity. The Imperial War Museum is doing us all a great service bringing them back into the fold of the book world to be enjoyed by new readers. They are a learning experience written by voices who should be heard and remembered.
About the Imperial War Museums – IWM
IWM (Imperial War Museums) tells the story of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War.
‘Our unique collections, made up of the everyday and the exceptional, reveal stories of people, places, ideas and events. Using these, we tell vivid personal stories and create powerful physical experiences across our five museums that reflect the realities of war as both a destructive and creative force. We challenge people to look at conflict from different perspectives, enriching their understanding of the causes, course and consequences of war and its impact on people’s lives.
IWM’s five branches which attract over 2.5 million visitors each year are IWM London, IWM’s flagship branch that recently transformed with new, permanent and free First World War Galleries alongside new displays across the iconic Atrium to mark the Centenary of the First World War; IWM North, housed in an iconic award-winning building designed by Daniel Libeskind; IWM Duxford, a world renowned aviation museum and Britain’s best preserved wartime airfield; Churchill War Rooms, housed in Churchill’s secret headquarters below Whitehall; and the Second World War cruiser HMS Belfast.’