EIBF 2017: Paddy Ashdown, Betrayal in Bordeaux

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Paddy Ashdown with Al Senter in the Chair with Lord (Ming) Campbell
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This was a splendid 'tour de force' by Paddy Ashdown which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. He was initially introduced by Al Senter, who was officially the Chairman, but then 'Ming' Campbell took over giving a very brief outline of Paddy Ashdown's career - he did mention that David Steel was also in the audience. Ashdown quipped that this is possibly the first time that David Steel would have heard him speak as he generally absented himself from the House of Lords chamber when Ashdown was speaking!

He gave an outline of his new, non-fiction book, "Game of Spies" which is set in Nazi-occupied Bordeaux and describes how a British agent is betrayed by the Resistance. Ashdown said that this was his ninth book, but he was hard at work on the tenth!

This book was really about three people, but Ashdown said he really only had time to tell us about one of them - Roger Land. Land had been brought up in London and Ashdown went on to explain how he was recruited and his visit to London during March 1942 and was given five minutes to think about the proposition which had been put to him which entailed being probably captured, tortured and then shot! He accepted and then found himself being trained for the extremely hazardous operations that lay ahead.

Eventually his time came and, after several unsuccessful attempts, he was parachuted into France near Bordeaux. At this time the French Army were starting to dabble in resistance but their efforts were somewhat uncoordinated. This mirrored the efforts of London where the work of Special Operations Executive (SOE) was not coordinated with that of the French Resistance. There was one occasion where explosives had been smuggled on the the boats in the harbour and timed to go off at sea, however, limpet mines were also fixed to the vessels which meant that they blew up early and before setting sail.

Throughout Land's time in France he was an extremely successful operator. He had three 'safe houses' which he used and where he hid his equipment. On one occasion he was betrayed by a member of the Resistance who had been captured. The owner of the house was very alarmed as the Germans had been looking all over the house, but had found nothing. The radio equipment was hidden under one of the beds.

Land entered the house by the garage, recovered the equipment and was just leaving when he literally bumped into the German observer who actually helped him pick up the items he had dropped! The German will never know just how close he was to his target!

Just after the war Charles de Gaulle came to review the French troops.

"Who are you?" demanded de Gaulle.

"Oh, I'm the Commander of the British Forces in the area."

"Well", said de Gaulle, "You have twenty four hours to get out of the district."

So much for French appreciation! But, as Ashdown said, the political reasons for this act can be understood, particularly when one realises what a bad state France was in at the end of the war.