A Life in Secrets

A Life in Secrets

The Story of Vera Atkins and the Lost Agents of SOE

Book - 2005
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During World War Two the Special Operation Executive's French Section sent more than 400 agents into Occupied France - at least 100 never returned and were reported 'Missing Believed Dead' after the war. Twelve of these were women who died in German concentration camps - some were tortured, some were shot, and some died in the gas chambers. Vera Atkins had helped prepare these women for their missions, and when the war was over she went out to Germany to find out what happened to them and the other agents lost behind enemy lines. But while the woman who carried out this extraordinary mission appeared quintessentially English, she was nothing of the sort. Vera Atkins, who never married, covered her life in mystery so that even her closest family knew almost nothing of her past. In A LIFE IN SECRETS Sarah Helm has stripped away Vera's many veils and - with unprecedented access to official and private papers - vividly reconstructed an extraordinary life.
Publisher: London : 2005
ISBN: 9780316724975
Branch Call Number: B 940.548641092 ATKI
Characteristics: 463 p. : ill. ; 24 cm


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rb3221 Sep 16, 2015

This is a story about Vera Atkins, a complex person who as the 'brains' of the 'F' section sent agents to France to execute espionage behind enemy lines. Was she a hero or a villain? As Helm shows there was clearly a level of incompetence and lies that occurred within the SOE, especially with Buckmaster, her immediate superior and probably with Atkins herself. The SOE was eventually compromised and the Nazis were often waiting for agents as soon as they landed. Helm shows that the S section was somewhat inept at detecting and defending penetration by the Nazis. She gives a detailed account on how the Nazis under Goetz penetrated the S section. This was a fascinating part of the story from the German viewpoint.
Helm also shows how Atkins spent countless hours after the war on discovering how they 'her' agents were caught and investigating exactly what happened to her missing agents. Was it guilt, empathy or fear that spurred her on? Was she a hero or a villain? The author presents many 'facts' but ultimately lets the reader decide.
Helm's book is well researched, well written in very readable prose. Some of the concentration camp details (e.g. the women's prison at Ravensbruck) are very hard to read but overall it is a book well worth reading!

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