A British Achilles (Paperback)
The Story of George, 2nd Earl Jellicoe KBE DSO MC FRS
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Son of the victor of Jutland, George Jellicoe has enjoyed power and privilege but never shirked his duty. His war exploits are legendary and, as a founder member of Stirling's SAS and first Commander of the Special Boat Service, he saw action a-plenty. A brigadier at 26 with a DSO and MC he liberated Athens as the Germans withdrew and saved Greece from a Communist revolution.
After the war Jellicoe joined the Foreign Office and worked with spies Burgess, Philby and Maclean in Washington and on the Soviet Desk. His political life saw him in the Cabinet of the Heath Government and he is frank with his biographer over the issues and characters of his fellow ministers.
Jellicoe's Achilles heel is his weakness for, and attraction to, women. His resignation over an involvement with a prostitute was a national scandal but he is refreshingly honest and devoid of self-justification. He remained an active member of the Lords pursuing a top level business career.
A British Achilles is a superb biography of a major public figure and exemplary wartime soldier.
The author should be congratulated for bringing us a fascinating book of interest to a diverse audience. Even though the book is a biography of George, 2nd Earl Jellicoe, it will appeal to readers interested in military history, in war and post-war Greece, in the operations of the British Foreign Office and in the inner workings of Cabinet government in the U.K. during the Cold War.Van Coufoudakis P.H.D.
This is Ms Almonds Windmill's second book. Her career includes service in the military and, later, in the voluntary sector, in Whitehall and in the European Commission in Brussels. She is the daughter of Major Jim Almonds, a founder of the SAS in WWII. The book is based on extensive archival research in Britain, including the private papers and diaries of George, 2nd Earl Jellicoe. The subject of this book recently celebrated his 88th birthday. He is still active on Greek issues. In 1986, he established a book prize under the aegis of the Anglo-Hellenic League. The prize was named after his tutor and friend Sir Steven Runciman. He is also active on social issues such as the problem of aids.
The reader may find strange the title A British Achilles for a biography. A reading of the book will show how accurate that title is. George, 2nd Earl Jellicoe, was the 6th and last child of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe of WWI fame. He became Earl at the age of 17 following the death of his father. From his parents he learned the appreciation of good things in life, an appetite for hard work, candor, humility and an ease of making friends. Even though born to privilege, he has been a driving force for the underprivileged and for reform. He is one of the last of his generation to combine military talent and a willingness to sacrifice himself for causes he believed in on or off the battlefield. In politics he was not driven by personal ambition but more by a sense of public service. As a statesman he was courageous in supporting controversial issues. He supported the rise of women in public life. His Achilles heel, however, was his personal dealings with women, and thus the title of this book. Because of his involvement with women he resigned from the Foreign Office in 1957 and from the post of Lord Privy Seal and Head of the Civil Service Department in 1973. In the aftermath of the Profumo scandal, the British political scene had little appetite for any more sexual escapades by high ranking public officials.
The first half of the book is devoted to George Jellicoe’s WWII exploits. Starting with his first mission, the June 12, 1942 raid on the Heraklion airfield in occupied Crete, he went on to carry out various operations in North Africa and in the Aegean. He was involved in the Italian surrender in the Dodecanese and, ultimately, in the liberation of mainland Greece. This created his abiding love for Greece and his admiration for Greeks who risked their lives and families to help their country and the allied cause. Through his involvement in Greece he met Christodoulos Tsigantes, commander of the Hieros Lochos, the Sacred Battalion. The two developed a close personal friendship. When Tsigantes died during the time when the junta was in power in Greece, he had asked Jellicoe not to be buried in Greece but in St. Michael’s Churchyard in Tidcombe. Jellicoe saw his friend reburied in Greece in 1987.
Jellicoe’s involvement in the liberation of the Greek mainland started with the liberation of Patras and continued on to Athens. Moving ahead of the main British force, he and a fellow officer made it to Skaramangas. From there, the two rode bicycles they found for the last twelve miles to Athens! After his arrival in Syntagma Square in Athens on his bicycle, George met with Archishop Damaskinos. On October 12, 1944 he saluted the crowd of Athenians from a balcony at the Grand Bretagne. Greek officials have honored him for his role in the liberation of Athens.
His post-war career included the second highest administrative position in UNRRA and service in the Foreign Office with postings in Washington and other major European capitals. He also served as Deputy Secretary-General of the now defunct Baghdad Pact. In politics, in the House of Lords, he became a major voice on defense, on aviation, on penal and housing issues. He became First Lord of Admiralty where he oversaw the aircraft carrier program of the British Navy. He became the Conservative leader in the House of Lords, Lord Privy Seal and Head of the Civil Service Department.
His political career was noted with courageous stands on controversial issues. In the House of Lords he was distinguished by the depth of his speeches and by his work for the reform of the House of Lords. While in UNRRA, he confronted the Russians over their demands fore the repatriation of Russian refugees and his own government over Jewish survivors wishing to resettle in Palestine. He stood for European unification from early on and worked hard to assure Britain’s place in the emerging European system. During Britain’s 1956 Suez invasion her expressed his opposition and his concern of=ver the consequences that action would have on Britain’s regional role. He was leader of the reform of the procedures and powers of the House of Lords. One of his early and most controversial public positions had to do with the problem of aids. He pressured Margaret Thatcher to commit the needed resources to help victims of aids, a commitment he shared with the late Princess Diana.
The combination of his personality, his noble background and varied public service positions brought him in contact with well known individuals like the Cambridge Spies, Sir Steven Runciman, journalists like Cy Sulzberger, Winston Churchill and many others. He also had ties to known Grecophiles including Monty Woodhouse and N. Henderson.
This is a fascinating book about a very complex and intelligent person with a sense of honor and a strong public commitment. He has been a major presence in British public life in war and peace but his sexual involvements and troubled marriages derailed his public life and contribution. Given his political success prior to his 1973 resignation from government, one wonders what else he could have done had he stayed on in politics. After reading this book, one cannot fail but make the comparison with American president Bill Clinton. Despite their different social and cultural background and life experiences, Clinton’s Achilles heel was also his weakness for women.
The book is recommended for any one interested in World War II and post-War Greece, as well as anyone interested in British politics.