This one has the lovely blue endpapers taken from a Jacqmar printed rayon entitled 'Happy Landings'
and I know those little decorative flourishes at the top of each page are carefully chosen too... for Operation Heartbreak these like little sets of wings.
It was interesting to walk around the Imperial War Museum and spot those little swatches of Persephone endpapers in the exhibitions, I instantly recognised 'London Wall' from Vere Hodgson's Few Egg and No Oranges.
Duff Cooper recounts the life of Captain Willie Maryngton, an orphan with an income, a career army officer who is utterly desperate to go to war. Bitterly disappointed to have missed out on active service in the First World War by a matter of days, Willie is even more distraught and disillusioned to find he is too old to serve in the Second World War and must stay at home and train the troops. Having been a cavalry man and subject to the all-consuming hobby of hippolatry (it's in the book, honestly) the changing face of warfare and increasing mechanisation leave Willie, a man without a war horse, stuck in the old groove.
But Willie nurses a constant sense of unbelonging and remains emotionally 'stuck' too, his parentless background has done little for his emotional maturity despite the presence of a family who have taken him under their wing, his relationships with women are doomed, often a complete disaster. His life takes on a routine of monotony and dullness, then add in the unrequited craving for front line action and it all breeds in him a streak of bitter regret and suspicion of those around him.
Everyone else is joining in the 'party' and somehow Willie is always on the outside looking in.
It slowly becomes clear that Willie is going to play a major role in the war and gradually Duff Cooper builds towards the ending that you know is coming if you are aware of the real wartime events on which the book is based. It is a book charged with increasing emotion and the final pages just turn those screws steadily as they quietly increase the poignancy of Willie's life.
I'm thinking these facts are well known to many but if not, and you think this might spoil your enjoyment of Operation Heartbreak, stop reading here ** and scroll down to ***
Operation Mincemeat, the actual British Intelligence Operation to deceive Hitler into thinking the allied invasion of Sicily would take place elsewhere, so the plan was for the body of Major Martin RM to wash up on a strategically chosen Spanish beach carrying secret papers. Spanish intelligence handed the papers to German intelligence before returning them supposedly unopened to Britain. It was only the misaligned refolding of the papers that gave any hint that the ruse might have worked and in fact it did. Hitler continued to expect an invasion via Greece and Sardinia weeks after the invasion of Sicily had begun.
Max Arthur's afterword offers a context to the events recounted in the book but more about Duff Cooper and the film of the real events on which the book is based tomorrow. I'll bet some you of you watched The Man Who Never Was, curled up on the floor on a dreary winter's Sunday afternoon as I did.