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Unearthing Churchill's Secret Army (Paperback)

The Official List of SOE Casualties and Their Stories

Military WWII > Battles & Campaigns > D-Day & Normandy WWII > Churchill

By John Grehan, Martin Mace
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 288
Illustrations: 140 images
ISBN: 9781399013208
Published: 4th June 2021



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Special Operations Executive was one of the most secretive organizations of the Second World War, its activities cloaked in mystery and intrigue. The fate, therefore, of many of its agents was not revealed to the general public other than the bare details carved with pride upon the headstones and memorials of those courageous individuals.

Then in 2003, the first batch of SOE personal files was released by The National Archives. Over the course of the following years more and more files were made available. Now, at last, it is possible to tell the stories of all those agents that died in action.

These are stories of bravery and betrayal, incompetence and misfortune, of brutal torture and ultimately death. Some died when their parachutes failed to open, others swallowed their cyanide capsules rather than fall into the hands of the Gestapo, many died in combat with the enemy, most though were executed, by hanging, by shooting and even by lethal injection.

The bodies of many of the lost agents were never found, destroyed in the crematoria of such places as Buckenwald, Mauthausen and Natzweiler, others were buried where they fell. All of them should be remembered as having undertaken missions behind enemy lines in the knowledge that they might never return.

The price of freedom was high but in these stories of bravery and betrayal, incompetence and misfortune, of brutal torture and ultimately death, without doubt SOE accomplished their mission to the letter. With no war to fight SOE was disbanded in January 1946. This work is a very appropriate memorial to those undertaking mission behind enemy lines knowing they may not return.

Martin Willoughby, The Wessex Branch of the Western Front Association

In this compelling directory John Grehan and Martin Mace attempt to lift the lid on much of the smokescreen that continues to hide so many of the amazing men and women of the Special Operations Executive from our view … This book is awash with merit and was no mean feat to put together. It is a worthy addition to any library and I recommend it.

Read the full review here

War History Online

This is the official List of SOE casualties and their stories of bravery and betrayal, incompetance and misfortune, brutal torture and untimely deaths.

Pennant Online

This book recounts the remarkable bravey of agents from Churchill's Special Operations Executive who were rounded up, interrogated and put to death by the Germans. The exploits of Violet Szabo are famous but who has heard of Brian Rafferty and Diana Bowden, two of many who simply disappeared into a concentration camp? The monsters in Berlin who knew the war was lost yet ordered brutalisation and execution may all be dead now but it is worthwhile nailing their names in a prominent place as “never brought to justice”.

Soldier Magazine

The author has told the stories of a group of these very brave individuals from released records and subsequent research. The covert nature of SOE will appeal to readers who may not consider themselves either war enthusiasts or historians but are interested in mystery and suspense. This is a story of a very dangerous was and an often very lonely war where betrayal and discovery were threats never far away.

Firetrench Reviews

This is more than just a book. It is an epitaph to the men and women who died in the service of the SOE, and is a worthy tribute to their bravery and self sacrifice.

Military History Monthly

Authors John Grehan and Martin Mace may already be well known to readers through their work for Key Publishing's popular Britain at War magazine. Here they turn their attention to the Special Operations Executive (SOE), one of the most secretive organisations of World War Two, its activities cloaked in mystery. The fate of many of its agents was not often made public, save for the most basic details. John and Martin now tell the stories of all officially recognised SOE casualties in full for the first time. The information covered by the authors has never been brought together in a single publication, until now. These are tales of bravery and betrayal, incompetence and misfortune, of brutal torture and untimately death.


Few know of the SOE – Churchill's secret army. It's authors John Grehan and Martin Mace, who accessed top secret documents only released to the public in 2003, tell of the bravery of those who fought.

Hull Daily Mail

The agents of the Special Operations Executive had a profound impact on the course of the Second World War, achieving great success in organising resistance forces, gathering intelligence and carrying out acts of sabotage. Their work, however, was exceedingly dangerous and this superb book reveals the price paid by those whose missions went awry. It profiles every man and woman who are known to have been killed whilst in the service of SOE, concisely detailing what is known of their recruitment and operations, and the circumstances leading up to their death. Executed in concentration camps, tortured, committing suicide when cornered, or simply being killed when their parachute failed to open, this book serves as a sobering reminder of the risks which each agent faced when they entered Occupied Europe, and it is deserving of a prominent place on the bookshelves of anyone with an interest in SOE.

Pegasus Archive

About John Grehan

JOHN GREHAN has written, edited or contributed to more than 300 books and magazine articles covering a wide span of military history from the Iron Age to the recent conflict in Afghanistan. John has also appeared on local and national radio and television to advise on military history topics. He was employed as the Assistant Editor of Britain at War Magazine from its inception until 2014. John now devotes his time to writing and editing books.

About Martin Mace

Martin Mace has been involved in writing and publishing military history for more than twenty years. He began his career with local history, writing a book on the Second World War anti-invasion defences in West Sussex. Following the success of this book, he established Historic Military Press, which has published a wide range of titles. Having launched Britain at War Magazine, he has been its editor since the first issue in May 2007.

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