My Father, The Man Who Never Was by Nicholas Reed
reviewed by Wilf Taylor
Older members of the Dulwich Society may well remember Ronnie Reed, an active and enthusiastic member of the Society until his death in 1995. He was a member of the Trees Committee and will be particularly remembered for regularly supplying and operating amplification equipment for lectures. His interest in amateur radio led him to training and work for the BBC for several years before the 2nd World War.
However, it was always noticeable that Ronnie, a quiet man, never did talk about his work or his wartime career, and even his two sons knew very little about it until many years later. The reason for this was that when he was called up in 1940 his radio skills led immediately to work with the security services and, like many of his generation who worked in this field, secrecy became a way of life which was difficult to break. However in 1994 shortly before his death Nicholas, his elder son, persuaded him to record his experiences and this book is the result.
It reveals an astonishingly varied career, including playing a part in two major security operations during the war. The first of these, known as 'Operation Mincemeat' involved leaving a dead body floating off the coast of Spain dressed as a Royal Marine officer carrying highly secret letters addressed to Allied military leaders in Africa. The apparent victim of a disaster mislead the Germans into believing that the Allied attack on southern Europe would be centred on landings in Greece and Sardinia rather than Sicily, and made the Allied operation much easier. Ronnie Reed's rather bizarre part in this involved supplying a photograph of himself, suitably dressed as a Royal Marine, to go on the identity card on the body because he was thought to provide the best likeness for the fictitious officer. The story of this extraordinary deception was told in the book 'The Man Who Never Was' published in the 1950s, but the identity of those involved in the planning was not revealed for another 40 years.
The second operation involved Ronnie being the case officer from 1942 to 1944 for perhaps the best known double agent of the War. Eddie Chapman, found in prison when the Germans occupied the Channel Islands, volunteered to be trained and dropped in Britain as a German spy. However, he immediately revealed himself to the British authorities and became a hugely successful double agent. As a natural man-about-town with a liking for an extravagent life-style including expensive cars and many women friends he must have been quite a handful for his case officer. His success is marked by the fact that Chapman passed on to Ronnie the Iron Cross he had received directly from Hitler as a supposed German agent! The medal is still kept in the family.
After D-Day Ronnie was drafted into the Army to liaise with American Intelligence and ended the war as Major Reed. He imagined he would return to the BBC after the war but instead was persuaded to stay in intelligence and worked for MI5 for the rest of his career. If only he could have given us a talk on his many experiences! However, Nicholas Reed has produced a detailed and interesting book which is also something of a biography of his father's life. All credit to him for persuading Ronnie to talk.
My Father, The Man Who Never Was by Nicholas Reed 200 pages, 160 illustrations is published by the Lilburne Press £9.95 (telephone number 01303 257 659)
Loudness by Judy Brown
reviewed by Rachel Down
Let this be what it is – great writing
Judy Brown hails from Cheshire, grew up in Northumberland and Cumbria and studied English at Cambridge and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She has worked as a lawyer in London and Hong Kong. She now works part-time and lives in Dulwich and Wirksworth, Derbyshire.
‘Loudness’ was published in October 2011 and was shortlisted for the 2011 Forward/Felix Dennis award for best first poetry.
If I could write poetry these are some of the poems I would love to write.
Judy Brown sees, hears, says and finishes many of my thoughts and has committed them to paper. Not to say she is not original – as she is.
The poems are acoustic. I read them, and aloud. I thought Donne, because of the metaphysical qualities of the poems, and was captured by the magical realism and more so by the Feminist content.
Perhaps the key to the poems ‘acoustic/soundlike’ quality is found on p.9 ‘A Letter to My Optician’. He looks on the bright side and in so doing enables her to too.
The early poems are those of a woman seemingly sat on the edge of a precipice and what preserves her is her honesty. I tasted Judy’s indignation, felt the grief and loss.
On reading I felt talking to and being with her (ex-) partner was a real effort. And I think this anthology logs it well. The pain is tangible. The conflicting expectations and desires are clear.
‘The Blackmailer’s Wife Reads History and Considers the Nature of Guilt’ gives the reader more information about the relationship with her husband. “You think too much, he says, still wanting me to read his palm. We both know I could do it”
Yet does he allow her the power?
Subsequent poems such as “There is No X on this Map in Any of Its Usual Guises” make you think not. The poem is vitriolic, bitter and seeking vengeance.
The anthology chronicles Judy’s divorce and reading further you follow her through the ‘Blame Game’ via a cup of tea – “Best Drink of the Day”.
At “Loudness” one obtains an insight to this process of ‘escape’ from the hostile regime. “The Confessions” speak of the relief and the realisation of the freedom she has achieved.
Whichever poem speaks to you, read it and aloud.
My personal favourite: ‘ A Woman Assumes Invisibilty aboard HMS Belfast’ . “Nobody clocks her as she goes ashore”.
Judy’s eye is surely trained on Watford Gap and far beyond and I hope that she has found resolution.
‘Loudness’ by Judy Brown is published by Seren (Poetry Wales Press) £8.99
Church and Community in South London - St Saviour’s Denmark Park 1881-1905 by Richard Olney
reviewed by Brian Green
For those who are interested in seeking out the history of East Dulwich this book by Richard Olney will provide an invaluable resource. It traces the development of an odd corner of South London – not quite in East Dulwich, not quite in Peckham and not quite in Camberwell but isolated from them by dead ends and railway tracks.
Without the intrusion of the railways in the 1860’s the development of what was to be euphemistically named Denmark Park would have been considerably different and might have attracted a more affluent class of resident intent on having a neat garden around a detached house. As Richard Olney points out however, the odd shaped steepish fields, stuck as they were between two railway lines and offered on building leases by The British Land Company did not readily attract prospective wealthy home owners or upmarket developers. In the event they would answer a demand for low-cost housing from the rapidly growing lower middle-class, many employed as clerks in the increasing number of insurance offices and banks and commercial houses of the City. Denmark Park was largely built over by 1881.
Not only was Denmark Park isolated from long established surrounding areas but the souls of its new inhabitants were equally isolated from the neighbouring churches of St John’s, Goose Green, St Giles’ Camberwell and All Saints, Peckham.
Into this spiritual void appeared the tea-importer and philanthropist Francis Peek who had already provided money for the building of churches elsewhere (two for his sons-in-law) and also financed the building of St Clements, East Dulwich. It was Peek who offered to build a church on a small site in Copleston Road and a vicarage at Grove Hill Road. Olney recounts the ups and downs of the newly established parish, describing the tussles which took place between the Evangelical and Ritualist wings within St Saviour’s after the early death of its first vicar. It is difficult now to imagine how divided the Church was locally and nationally over the issue of Ritualism.
Richard Olney tells a fascinating story of the birth and growth of a suburb. This readable book is meticulously researched and the fruits of considerable labour. It is essential reading in the understanding of the way a community was formed over a short period of time.
Church and Community in South London : St Saviour’s Denmark Park 1881-1905 128 pages £11.95 is available from tye author 26 Danby Street, SE 15 4BU