Thursday, 23 February 2012

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" an old hero from the Second World War, 'Mr Resistance' MRD Foot

MRD Foot

Historian of the Second World War 'Special Operations Executive' and the French Resistance, MRD Foot has died at the age of 92.
His obituary in the 'Guardian' described him as :
 'a strikingly handsome man with intense intellectual energy and a remarkable fund of anecdotes and arcane information – imparted in a clipped, precise and almost lapidary style. He abhorred dullness and prolixity and following his father's advice he vowed never to retire and remained active, in research, writing and attending academic meetings until the final weeks of his life'.

Things you possibly didn't know about Michael, that he :

*  was the son of a career soldier,  educated at Winchester College and  was at Oxford University and joined the British Army on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 breaking off  his studies at 19 to enlist in the Army.

*  wanted to see action, joined the Special Air Service as an intelligence officer and was parachuted into France in 1944 after D-Day with the special mission to track down a notorious German interrogator called Bonner who had tortured some of the French SAS after capture.

* was ambushed with his men by German paratroopers, resisted interrogation without breaking and escaping from a holding camp for the third time sought refuge in an unsympathetic Breton farmhouse where the farmer's sons gave him a savage beating and after recapture by the Germans was returned to Britain in a prisoner exchange 'unfit for active service'.

*  when he was given the task of 'estimating the number of military casualties' in the event of a full-scale invasion of Japan, suggested a figure of 1·5 million and  so influenced the American decision to drop the atom bombs on Japanese cities which brought the War in the Pacific to an end.
*   for his service with the French Resistance was awarded the 'Croix de Guerre' and ended the war with the rank of  'major'.

*  after the War, returned to Oxford University , where, like so many others, he recalled being enchanted by the young writer, Iris Murdoch, who he found "absolutely captivating: she had personality and that wonderful Irish voice. Practically everyone who was up with Iris fell for her”.

* after graduating, taught History at Oxford, before becoming Professor of Modern History at Manchester University and as 'Official Historian of  Special Operations Executive'  wrote an accounts of its Wartime work which led to his becoming known as 'Mr Resistance'.

* in preparation for his book on the S.O.E,  had his research 'authorised by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan,  was interviewed and grilled in the Foreign Office and given the go ahead to write on condition that :
- he told no one what he was doing,  not even his wife
- wrote on the assumption that the secret 'MI6 did not exist'
- proceeded 'without the knowledge or co-operation of the men and women involved'.

* saw his book :
-  provoke controversy and two libel suits for its portrayals of some SOE operatives.
- receive  praise for the skill with which he linked the experience of agents on the ground with the organisational and geographical  handicaps of controllers back in London.
- help to restore French self-respect by its support of the Wartime Resistance Movement.

*  enjoyed the rare distinction of being the only person to be referred to by his real name in a John le Carré spy novel when George Smiley was asked :

 “Are you MRD Foot?,”  while he was posing as the Secret Service’s official historian as a cover while hunting for Karla’s 'mole'.

 * resigned his University the post in 1973, explaining that he found the process of supervising students too like being a “parking meter attendant” and  turned to full time  writing and in his book 'Resistance' in 1976, described the active opposition to Nazism across the spectrum, from de Gaulle to the inmates of Auschwitz who contrived to infect their captors with lice carrying typhus and in 'Six Faces of Courage' in 1978, explored the qualities of character which made ordinary men and women choose the perils of resistance work.

* in 2001, published 'SOE in the Low Countries' when most of the participants were dead and revealed how, through incompetence and amateurism, more than 40 Dutch agents trained by SOE were parachuted, one by one, into the arms of the Germans, who then created an imaginary resistance network, calling for more money, agents and supplies to be dropped.

So " Goodbye MRD ". Britain shall not see your like again.

Fascinating video explaining SOE operations at about 6 minutes in and the Dutch agents at 16 minutes :

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