Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Real Enigma Heroes, by Phil Shanahan

FORGET Hollywood. This is the story of the forgotten British heroes who rescued vital documents about the Enigma code from a sinking German U-boat – and there isn’t an American accent within earshot.

The paperwork retrieved gave experts at Bletchley Park the breakthrough they needed to crack the Enigma code, and their new-found knowledge helped ensure an Allied victory and is thought to have shortened WW2 by as much as two years.

This lost chapter of the history of the war remained shrouded in secrecy for some 60 years, until it was uncovered by journalist Phil Shanahan, whose book The Real Enigma Heroes has just been issued in paperback by The History Press.

Phil’s interest was aroused when a junior reporter announced that the retired miner he had just interviewed claimed a Tamworth man who served with the Royal Navy had virtually won the war.

Initially Phil (and his colleagues) were sceptical. The story seemed unlikely – if this extraordinary claim was true, how come no-one had heard about it before?

But for some reason Phil didn’t dismiss it out-of-hand.

His first tentative inquiries revealed that, amazingly, the story was true. The actions of Colin Grazier, from Tamworth, Staffordshire, had helped win the Second World War – and the 22-year-old Able Seaman lost his life in the process.

Colin Grazier was serving aboard HMS Petard on October 30, 1942, when he and First Lieutenant Tony Fasson dived into the water to board a holed German submarine.

They passed German code books up to canteen assistant Tommy Brown, who joined them on the coning tower.

When the U-559 suddenly sank, teenaged Tommy leapt to safety, but the other two men failed to make it back to the surface and their bodies were never found.

Years later the heroes were recast as fictional Americans in the controversial Hollywood film U-571.

But as he continued his researches Phil became determined that the true story should be known, and that the three men should win the acclaim they deserved.

He amassed a collection of old photographs, letters and memories.

And his campaign for recognition, backed by the Tamworth Herald (the newspaper where he then worked), won support from leading show business personalities, MPs and royalty.

Now the square in Tamworth town centre is dominated by a statue of three giant anchors, a tribute created by world renowned sculptor Walenty Pytel, and there is an annual memorial ceremony on Grazier Day, held on the nearest Sunday to October 30.

There is an exhibition about the Enigma heroes at Bletchley Park’s Hut 8 – the very place where the German Enigma codes were cracked and Phil himself was honoured when he showed Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall the display and presented them with a hardback copy of his book.

I worked with Phil at the Tamworth Herald, so this review may seem a little nepotistic , but The Real Enigma Heroes is a rattling good read, in which the story of Grazier, Fasson and Brown unfolds alongside the tale of Phil’s efforts to track down information , his battles with bureaucracy as he tried to establish a permanent monument to the three men, and the hard work involved in raising cash for the project.

People who are passionate about their subject or interest often find it difficult to translate that enthusiasm into words on paper but Phil’s fervour for putting this forgotten incident into the public domain is infectious.

He has included a wealth of pictures and his book is very well written It is every bit as gripping on the second or third reading as it was on the first.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Colin Grazier, Tony Fasson and Tommy Brown – and we should also acknowledge Phil’s tireless efforts to ensure the story of these three brave men is never forgotten, and that they take their rightful place in history.

* The paperback edition of The Real Enigma Heroes is published by The History Press, price £9.99. (ISBN 978-0-7524-5785-7)

* Phil Shanahan was a journalist for more than 20 years and was awarded The Freedom of Bletchley Park for his efforts in gaining Grazier, Fasson and Brown public recognition. The campaign he led to honour the Enigma heroes won three of the biggest awards for campaigning regional journalism in the UK.
He now runs his own writing/photography/publicity business, and gives talks about The Real Enigma Heroes – find him at http://enigmacommunications.co.uk/

Friday, 17 September 2010

Look at a Book

BOOKS are important. Not only do they tell stories, they relay information and link us with the past and the future. They help us to make sense of our own lives - and to gain insight and understanding into the way others live.

I wanted to create a second page on my original blog where I could record my thoughts about books old and new, but my IT skills were not up to such task.
Instead, I have created another blog, especially for all things bookish.

It is, as I explain in the details on the right, dedicated to my Norwegian grandmother, whose only luggage when she ran away to England in 1915 was a trunk full of books.

It is, I have to admit, a bit of an experiment (which is why the review on Started Early, Took My Dog has already appeared in my other blog - I was just trying to see if I could do it).

It is very much a work in progress, which means the design, format and content may change - so please let me know if you have any ideas for improvement.

First out of the trunk over the next few days is a review of Phil Shanahan's fascinating The Real Enigma Heroes which tells the true story of how three men rescued vital information about the Enigma code from a German U-Boat.

Their actions helped shorten the war and ensure an Allied victory, but the tale of the brave trio was forgotten for 50 years or more, until Phil determined to win recognition for them.

And later in the week I'll be posting details of how you can get a free copy of some of the French recipes which eature in Rosy Thornton's latest novel A Tapestry of Love.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Started Early, Took My Dog

KATE Atkinson is one of my favourite authors, and Human Croquet is the book I would most like to have to written - but having just read Started Early, Took My Dog I feel she is in danger of becoming a little formulaic.

It is not that the book is a dud. It isn't. Atkinson is a master of her craft, with a matchless ability to entwine time and characters as the past and present unravel their secrets.

In all her novels nothing and no-one are quite what they seem. Lives collide and worlds are turned inside out as actions taken long ago continue to echo down the years, while Nemesis stands just around the corner waiting to avenge the innocent...

There are lost children, missing mothers, and inadequate men: people in the wrong place at the wrong time, people in the wrong lives (a phrase she herself uses about a character in her first book, the Whitbread Award winning Behind the Scenes at the Mueum).

Perhaps that is what is wrong with Started Early, Took My Dog . The themes and style of writing are too similar to what has gone before.

As before, the labyrinthine twists and turns of the plot rely heavily on co-incidence, but this time around the element of surprise is lacking, and the story line seems a little more predictable.

It is the fourth appearance for private detective Jackson Brodie (whose private life is as chaotic as ever) and follows his efforts to discover who a young female client really is.

His search for the truth about her identity takes him on a 30-year time trip involving a murdered prostitute and a police cover-up.

Along the way he meets a cast of characters who should be intriguing, but many are a little less real and less sympathetically drawn than those in Atkinson's previous books.

There is, for example, an alcoholic former journalist, a hippy dippy social worker and a very unwelcoming B&B landlady, who are all cartoony cardboard cut-outs.

The policemen who were involved in that long ago case are also sterotypical seventies coppers. Brutal, hard-drinking, sexist, racist, anxious to look after their own, they are not pleasant men, but circumstances have made them what they are.

Like the other characters their lives have been blighted by what happened, by the actions of one man who lost control.

Central to the the story is retired policewoman Tracy, still haunted by that 30-year-old murder case, who buys a child from a prostitute, hoping to break the cycle of deprivation and abuse - and to make amends for the child who lost his mother and was nver given the chance to live with a loving family.

There is a rather engaging jam-making, scone-baking gangland boss, whose home crowded with photos of his grandchildren; an ageing actress who suffers from dementia, and Julia, Brodie's former lover and the mother of his son.

There is also the mysterious Brian Jackson, another investigator, who is trying to track down the family of a man who spent his childhood in a children's home...

At the end of the book there are clues that another Jackson Brodie is on the way, but I may give it a miss.

If Started Early, Took My Dog is your first encounter with Kate Atkinson then you may think it is a very good book.

But I was disappointed.