‘As commander of the 4th Parachute Brigade, John Hackett was in the vanguard of the attack on Arnhem on 17 September 1944 . . .
A week later, when his depleted and poorly supplied force was at its last gasp, he was badly wounded in the stomach and leg. It is this moment, with the battle almost spent and the narrator reduced to helpless dependence on others, which marks the starting point of the book – for I Was a Stranger is not so much a tale of derring-do (though its descriptions of the fighting are vivid) as a story of friendship. The heroism it celebrates is not that of soldiers, but of a household run by three women in a town under German occupation.’
Extract from Anthony Gardner’s preface to Plain Foxed Edition: John Hackett, I Was a Stranger
Number 5 Torenstraat in the town of Ede was the home of three middle-aged unmarried sisters – Ann, Cor and Mien de Nooij. There John Hackett spent the following months under the noses of the Germans, while the de Nooij family nursed him back to health. Finally, after a hair-raising journey through the waterways of occupied Holland, he made it back to the British lines.
It’s a cliffhanging story, yet I Was a Stranger has something of the stillness and reflective quality of a Dutch painting. This was a household that survived by paying attention to the smallest details of daily life, and John gradually became part of it, sitting with the sisters during the long evenings, sharing their religious faith and love of English literature. But always there was the knowledge that his presence could be their death sentence, and the need for him to recover his strength became ever more pressing.
I Was a Stranger is a tribute by a very unusual soldier to a group of outstandingly brave, unassuming and resourceful people, which stays in the heart long after the book is closed. You’ll find links to our Plain Foxed Edition below, as a single title and combined with other stories of war and friendship.
With best wishes, as ever, from the SF office staff
Anna, Hattie & Jess