Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle #Review #Giveaway #WartimeClassics
Today I am delighted to feature the fourth in the recently released Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics Series: Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle. Published to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, all four of the series were written during the war by people who witnessed events first hand. There is also the opportunity to win a paperback copy of Eight Hours from England. Details on how to enter the giveaway are at the foot of this post.
Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle – 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.’
The publishers have provided me with a fascinating post which gives an insight into the author and this remarkable book.
Anthony Quayle was a successful British actor and theatre director, well known for his roles in classic plays on the stage as well as his film career. Perhaps less well known is Quayle’s war service, part of which is described vividly in his novel Eight Hours From England, originally published in 1945. The novel concerns the exploits of Special Operations Executive (SOE) operative John Overton (read – the author himself) behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Albania. Quayle had initially served in the Royal Artillery, joining SOE in 1943. He was deployed to Albania on 31st December that year, exactly the same date that the novel’s protagonist is sent. Indeed, Quayle’s time in Albania is so closely reflected in Eight Hours from England that the book almost acts as a memoir, merely with the names slightly altered.
SOE was established as a secret service in July 1940 with the aim of infiltrating enemy occupied countries and, in the words of the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to ‘set Europe ablaze’. Tasked with work such as sabotage and liaising with local resistance movements, the missions were extremely dangerous, with many now-famous operatives such as Violette Szabo meeting their fate at the hands of the enemy. At its largest, SOE employed some 10,000 men and 3,000 women, many of whom worked as secret agents. The largest branch headquarters in the Mediterranean and Middle East theatre was in Cairo, and this is where Overton is initially sent, before being posted to Albania.
Albania had been invaded by Italy on 7 April 1939 and was swiftly conquered; the reigning King Zog escaped to the UK, where the Royal family stayed for the duration of the war. Communist partisans under Enver Hoxha and the more traditional Balli Kombetar were both supported by SOE initially. After the overthrow of Benito Mussolini – the Italian fascist leader – in July 1943, some Italian forces in Albania sided with the partisans, whilst others went over to the Germans. The resulting chaos was quickly quelled by German forces, who installed a government led by Mehdi Frasheri. However the government had little control outside the main towns, with the rest of the country ruled by rival guerrilla leaders – into this confused picture Overton is sent, in December 1943.
Eight Hours from England can be seen as a powerful study of the dilemmas faced by occupied populations, and the challenges faced by outsiders inclined to help. Overton’s mission is muddied by competing local factions and tensions between the Allies themselves, not to mention geographical and logistical obstacles. The novel paints a fascinating portrait not just of derring-do and bravery, but also of some of the frustration of life as an SOE Operative. Quayle himself found working with the Balli and the Partisans very difficult, and the reader has a real sense of the problems Quayle/Overton and his allies face, and the dislike for many of those they are forced to deal with. Ostensibly this is an ‘exciting’ set up (in the fictional sense, at least), but the logistics of operating in enemy territory, their precarious position and the feeling of isolation is challenging for all the men. One of the few positives, Overton finds, is his friendship forged with the Italian Doctor, Munzi.
Many of the characters in the novel are based on Quayle’s real life contemporaries. Notable in particular is Skender Mucho. In the real events, this was Skender Muco of the Balli Kombetar, who admitted to Quayle that the Ballists had aligned themselves with the Germans in order to defeat the Communist Partisans. Muco had been willing to work with the British but wanted representation in London and assurances for Albania’s independence after the war. The British authorities, however, were only concerned with those groups who attacked the German occupying forces, and were fundamentally disinterested in Albanian politics. Muco later lost his life to the Germans – something Overton predicts for his counterpart Mucho in the novel:
Mucho could go running all over the mountains, hiding,
scheming, intriguing, but he was doomed. He would never
make another trip to Paris. Somewhere here in these mountains
a German or an Albanian bullet would put an end to his
fevered life. I felt quite sure of it.
Anthony Quayle was eventually extracted from Albania on the night of 3 April 1944 and the stress of the last few months had evidently caught up with him, as he remarked in his autobiography: ‘The joy to be back amongst my own was so great that it was almost pain. I jolted along in the back of the truck sobbing with happiness’. Quayle later told Harold Macmillan, British Minister Resident in North Africa and future Prime Minister, that the dilemma was immense for liaison officers, ‘whose task was to urge Balkan peasants into attacking the enemy, but knowing perfectly well the price those peasants would pay in death and the destruction of their villages’. Indeed at the end of the war Albania under Enver Hoxha, who had eliminated his wartime colleagues, fell out first with the Western Allies and later the Communist Bloc, going on to function as a nation in isolation.
This eloquent, engaging novel of life behind the lines in Albania rightly deserves to be brought back into print. Originally published in 1945, Quayle later wrote that ‘it was well enough received to make me wonder if I might not turn to writing instead of acting. But although I could write, I knew I did not have enough experience of life to be a writer: no, I was an actor’. Quayle did go on to enjoy a glittering acting career, including a number of war movies such as Ice Cold in Alex (1958) and The Guns of Navarone (1961), his performances no doubt based on his wartime experiences. This remarkable career has indeed rather overshadowed Quayle’s time as an author, but despite his perceivable pessimism, his novel surpasses both his and the reader’s expectations alike.
About the Author
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.
Book link: Amazon UK
About the Imperial War Museums Wartime Classics series
In September this year, to coincide with the 80th Anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, the IWM will publish the first four titles of what they hope to be a long and successful fiction series - the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics.
From The City, From The Plough by Alexander Baron
Trial By Battle by David Piper
Plenty Under The Counter by Kathleen Hewitt
Eight Hours From England by Anthony Quayle
Originally published to considerable acclaim, these four 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’.
You can read an extract of From the City, From the Plough here , read an extract from Trial by Battle here and read a review on Plenty Under the Counter here.
Thanks to the IWM and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for a place on the tour.
Follow the rest of the tour!
Giveaway (UK only)
To win a paperback copy of Eight Hours from England, just Follow and Retweet the pinned Tweet at @bookslifethings.
Closing Date September 27th 2019 and there is one winner.
*Terms and Conditions –UK entries only. The winner will be selected at random via Tweetdraw from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.