Friday, March 09, 2007

Resistance is futile...unles you're driving a Bugatti

I'm reading a fascinating book at the moment, one of many actually. As usual I have about three books on the go, apparently I have an inability to read just one book at a time. Anyway the book that is being heavily devoured during my lunch breaks is Joe Seward's The Grand Prix Saboteurs. Despite the fact that I've found several edititorial mistakes, it has been an enthralling read. The story tells of three Grand Prix drivers from the 1920s/1930s who went on to become part of the British Special Operations Executive, a branch of secret agents whose mission was to establish a sabotage network in Paris and act as a catalyst for the French Resistance during the second world war. Having never studied modern history at school, (my school determined that learning the names and unfortunate demise of Henry VIII's wives and the intricacies of the Hundred Years War would be more beneficial to its students) I am learning so much from the Saboteurs. The book focuses on exactly what the three men went through to get such sabotage networks set up. The training was intense and a fluency of French obviously a must. There are some nice tie-ins as well. One of the SOE's Finishing training schools for the agents was at Beaulieu, fitting particularly for Willy Grover and Robert Benoist of course due to Beaulieu's connection with classic and vintage automobiles and made more so for me because of the personal connection I have with Beaulieu. My mother's embroidered reredos, completed while she worked and lived at the Lodge, remains a beautiful addition to Beaulieu Abbey Church. I have discovered how influential Bugatti was in the world of racing and how they provided a cover for one of the SOE agents, enabling him to travel across France in one of their cars. I have learned about the captivating history of Garage Banville - worthy of a book in itself I feel - and feel well versed in the trials and tribultations of a network radio operator in Paris at this time.
This book was a long time in coming. The author Joe Seward had been researching the tale for about 18 years but it was only in 2003 when the offical records on the SOE agents were released by the British government, that Mr. Seward was able to complete his book. If you're at all interested in the clandestine operations of the second world war I urge you to read the book.

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