MI9: A History of the Secret Service for Escape and Evasion in World War Two by Helen Fry – Review
By Karl Hornsey
Historian and author Helen Fry has built up an impressive back catalogue over the years by focusing on some of the previously untold stories of heroics before, during and after the Second World War. These books have often centred on Germans who fought against their own country during the conflicts, or tales from the secret services that had yet to make it into the wider consciousness, and it’s to the latter of these subjects that she has returned for her latest release.
MI9: A History of the Secret Service for Escape and Evasion in World War Two looks at the largely unknown work of hundreds of secret agents whose onerous task it was to rescue Allied fighters from behind enemy lines, and secure their safe passage away from their Nazi captors. As one would expect from reading any of Fry’s previous books, this is a very well researched volume, piecing together many of the complex strands that made up this branch of the secret service, and Fry is assisted by access to a large number of recently declassified documents.
There are so many fascinating characters to draw upon, such as Airey Neave, the first British prisoner of war to escape from Colditz, French Resistance member Mary Lindell, airman and inventor Christopher Clayton Hutton – one of the inspirations behind Ian Fleming’s Q – that Fry has an abundance of stories to choose from. There’s even an appearance by Kim Philby, without whom seemingly no book on the history of post-Second World War espionage can be without. Fry fleshes out all of these characters in great detail, and makes the reader want to know even more about them.
My interest in the field of espionage started with the likes of Philby and the Cold War era, but then really took hold with the books of Ben Macintyre, who in my opinion is the unrivalled king of storytelling on the subject, bringing to life so many weird and wonderful characters, and turning them into equally fascinating TV programmes.
In comparison, Fry takes a less florid and more matter-of-fact tone than Macintyre, though maybe it’s an unfair comparison to someone that I hold in such high regard. There is so much content in this book, so many stories of remarkable bravery and endeavour, that the main feeling is simply to be thankful that Fry has moved them closer to a wider audience, and her enthusiasm for her subjects shines through. There’s no doubt that these are complex tales, but Fry takes the time to delve into the back stories of those involved, giving the reader a great breadth of knowledge about unsung heroes who are finally given their day in the sun.
‘MI9: A History of the Secret Service for Escape and Evasion in World War Two’ by Helen Fry is published by Yale University Press, £20 hardback