Sapere Books are kind enough to send me free copies once in a while. This is one of those books and the review is from my Goodreads profile.
Albanian Assignment: The Memoir of an SOE Agent in World War Two by David Smiley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was given freely for review by Sapere Books.
It's hard to imagine that lives like this are real. David Smiley was a young man who was an army regular at the outbreak of war. After service in East Africa he used his family influences (he was of noted stock) to join a commando corps and started his most extraordinary adventures. After missions in Abyssinia, Syria and Palestine he joined the Special Operations Executive and was parachuted into Albania to work with the locals against Italian and then German occupation.
What is most fascinating about these times is the underlying politics. Albania wasn't (isn't) a country of similar people. There are different ethnicities, tribes and religions with some being Muslim and some orthodox. Sadly, these differences in that region never seem to have settled and in my lifetime there have been tragic events in Kosovo against ethnic Albanians.
At this time communist forces are also trying to establish power in the region. The British government plays games behind the scenes trying to not only win the war but also influence the outcomes. Will we ever learn that arming groups with British weapons so often works against us? As we now know Albania entered Soviet influence and King Zog was exiled - it could so easily have been a similar story in Greece where civil war was also unfolding at the same time.
Back to Smiley - he is at the forefront of these events. He discusses with all parties in the field in an attempt to drive out the Italian and German forces. He moves around using false identities or disguises and at one point even has a lift in a car with a German soldier. All this despite speaking little Albanian and conducting many conversations in French. The sheer front of the man (and others alongside him) is phenomenal.
A strange and disconcerting aspect of the book, to me at least, is the cold bloodedness of war. While Smiley clearly describes with fondness certain dishes he ate, houses he stayed in and girls that served him the truly exciting events are tossed aside in the manner of "we laid a mine to disable a troop lorry and killed about 20 men as they jumped off". Simple as that, and yet the affection he had for a horse was enough that he showed real emotion at parting. I guess that's how soldiers are trained.
I really enjoyed these memoirs - the politics really drew me in, especially being of an age that remembers the Cold War of the 80s, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Balkan wars of the 90s. This is where it all started and it's not pretty reading for fans of British influence. Our soldiers are as incredible as ever, our politicians as inept. Greece avoided communism despite British aid, not because of it according to this book.
A great read for fans of politics and war history as well as those who want a true story of incredible heroism, this is a recommended read.
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