‘The unconquerable strength of the gentle . . .’

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‘In a year where we almost certainly going to be inundated with books about World War One, it seems a little perverse to be publishing a reprinted memoir about World War Two, but Slightly Foxed (as always) know what they’re doing.

To most of us, World War Two and Holland are inextricably linked through the figure of Anne Frank.  Her diary, documenting the years spent hiding in attic rooms with her Jewish family and friends, is rightly renowned for its intelligence, humour against terrible odds, and incredible poignancy – not least because of its abrupt ending.  But Anne Frank was not the only amazingly brave person in wartime Holland – a different set of people, told from a very different perspective, come to the fore in I Was A Stranger, first published in 1977.

I was a little nervous about reading this memoir, written (as it is) by a soldier.  I find warfare tedious in fiction and morally difficult in fact, and did begin to skim-read the early pages of the memoir which deal with militaristic operations – though, thankfully, nothing even slightly approaching the jingoism of Bulldog Drummond and his ilk.  But there is not much even of this – because John Hackett was injured, and taken to an army hospital.  Here he has an operation on his stomach – he is full of admiration for and gratitude to the skilled surgeon – and has a lengthy recovery to look forward to.  Being in enemy hands, the plan they had was to move him to a Prisoner of War camp as soon as he could be moved.  Not for the last time in his wartime career, Hackett decides instead to escape . . .’

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