Edward Wilson: Portrait of the Spy as a Young Man

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Edward Wilson Portrait of the Spy as a Young Man
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    Portrait of the Spy as a Young Man
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    Исторические приключения / prose_military / на английском языке
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Portrait of the Spy as a Young Man: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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A fascinating fictional account of the French Resistance in World War II. It's told by William Catesby and is a sort of prequel to the 6 part series of books about Catesby and his work as a British spy. Now in his 90's, he is dictating his memoirs of his time in Occupied France to his granddaughter Leanna. We learn that he left Cambridge University in 1941 to join the army but ended up as an officer with the SOE (Special Operations Executive) an organisation set up by the British Government 1940 with the aim of conducting espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe. There's a detailed account of Catesby's training before he is parachuted in to Occupied France to aid the Maquis with whom he shares the successes and failures in their battle against the German occupying forces and French collaborators. Although the author Edward Wilson stresses that this is a work of fiction, Catesby's memoirs provide an engrossing account of a British agent's experience fighting with the French Resistance. A wonderful blend of spy story, romance and the realities of war. Catesby's views are perfectly summed up when he tells Leanna: "That's why writing history is so difficult. Those in power drip feed the past - and edit what they pass on." Recommended for anyone with an interest in the real story of resistance in World War II, this is a worthy addition to the Catesby series.

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Title Page

About the Author



Gare de Limoges-Bénédictins: May 1943

Suffolk: November 2014

Cambridge: Michaelmas Term, 1941

Suffolk: July 1942

England: February 1943

Suffolk: 15 March 2015

Airborne Near Angers: May 1943

Suffolk: April 2015

Massif Central: May 1943

Suffolk: June 2016

Le Massif Central: Summer 1943

Trois-Chevaux: Autumn, 1943

Near Trois-Chevaux: 7 June 1944

Suffolk: 10 June 2017

Trois-Chevaux: 14 July 1944

Suffolk: August 2018




EDWARD WILSON’S first home was a waterfront bar in Fell’s Point, a Baltimore neighbourhood whose residents included Billie Holiday and Edgar Allan Poe. He went to Baltimore Poly, a school where Ta-Nehisi Coates and Dashiell Hammett were former students. He served in Vietnam with the 5th SFGA and was decorated for his part in rescuing wounded Vietnamese soldiers from a minefield. After leaving the Army, Wilson became an expatriate and gave up US nationality to become a British citizen. He has also lived and worked in Germany and France, and was a post-graduate student at Edinburgh University. He is the author of eight novels, A River in May, The Envoy, The Darkling Spy, The Midnight Swimmer, A Very British Ending, The Whitehall Mandarin, South Atlantic Requiem and Portrait of the Spy as a Young Man, all published by Arcadia Books. The author taught at Lowestoft College and local schools for thirty years. He lives with his wife Julia in rural Suffolk where they garden and try to identify birds.

To our grandson, Jackson Gore-Manton

Ami, entends-tu

Le vol noir des corbeaux

Sur nos plaines?

Ami, entends-tu

Les cris sourds du pays

Qu’on enchaîne?

Ohé! Partisans …

Le Chant des Partisans,

words by Maurice Druon and Joseph Kessel;

music by Anna Marly

Gare de Limoges-Bénédictins: May 1943

It was turning into the worst of all nightmares. As soon as the flow of disembarked passengers ground to halt, William Catesby knew there was trouble ahead – and, when he saw the blue berets, he realised they were in serious danger. The milice française, despite their smart new uniforms – blue berets and jackets, brown shirts and boots with gaiters – were not the sharpest of cops, but they made up for stupidity with brutality. They were recruited from prisons and the ranks of unsuccessful petty criminals. Joining the milice meant you were exempt from being deported to work in Germany and had plenty of non-rationed food. The most frightening thing was that these ex-criminals had the power to arrest and torture.

Catesby and the new wireless operator, a Frenchwoman recently infiltrated by RAF Lysander, had excellent fake identity cards and supporting documents. He was worried, but hoped they could bluff their way past a milice cretin. Stay calm and you can do it. Then Catesby’s heart sank. Oh, shit! There were other uniforms at the end of the train platform – and they weren’t wearing gaiters and blue trousers, but polished jackboots and a black diamond patch emblazoned with SD on the lower left arm of their field grey tunics. Sicherheitsdienst. The radio transmitter that Catesby was carrying was disguised by a brown leather case to look like an ordinary piece of luggage. The problem was its weight. It was bloody heavy – more than twenty kilos, which made pretending it was an ordinary travel bag difficult. But that problem no longer mattered. Catesby and his radio operator were about to be arrested and tortured.

He wished he had put his cyanide pill in his jacket pocket. He feared that he would break under questioning. Many stronger agents did. Catesby made a quick mental inventory of those who would be arrested if he broke. If, however, he managed to resist for a day or two, they might be warned and have a chance to go into hiding. But what weighed on him most was the secret that had been entrusted to him during his brief visit to London. Why oh why had the major briefing him at SOE HQ confided such a sensitive and important secret? And to him, Catesby, a mere underling in the scheme of things? The major suggested he needed to know about it to better appreciate the role of the Resistance in the coming months. Or was the major just showing off? The fact that the allied invasion of Europe would take place between June and September 1943 at the Pas-de-Calais was a secret that Catesby would gladly excise from his brain if he had a drill and scalpel. If the Gestapo tortured it out of him, they would have extracted a crown jewel.

Catesby cursed himself for having volunteered for Special Operations Executive – an ordinary death on the battlefield would have been quicker for him and less costly for the allies. An SOE death meant horrific torture – followed by years in a concentration camp and eventual execution. He then made up his mind. It would be his last act of decency before breaking under torture. Catesby whispered to his companion without looking at her. ‘Pretend you don’t know me. Move forward now. I will lag behind. You must get out of the station before they search me.’

She ignored him and said, ‘Put the transmitter on top of your head.’


‘Don’t argue. Do as I say and do it now!’

The new radio operator, who looked about forty, was old enough to be Catesby’s mother – and radiated both sensuality and authority. She was stunningly beautiful with expensively coiffured blond hair. Something in Catesby instinctually obeyed and he hefted the radio on to his head. It was, actually, a lot easier carrying the heavy lump of coils, batteries and accessories this way than by his side. For a second he gave a grim smile at how silly he must look.

Meanwhile, the wireless operator was shouting her head off in fluent German. ‘Schnell! We have a captured terrorist radio transmitter and need to get to Abwehr HQ immediately.’

Catesby had to run to keep up with her as she hurtled towards the German security police with an angry frown. The NCO in charge bore a confused look on his face. One of the milice, who obviously didn’t understand German, seemed to be asking what was going on. The German NCO gestured him away and addressed Catesby’s companion. ‘How can I help? My superiors told me nothing about this.’

‘They said there would be a car waiting. We’re already late – and this transmitter has an encryption device that urgently needs decoding. Where is that fucking car you promised?’

The NCO was clearly intimidated.

‘Who is your immediate superior?’ shouted the woman.

The NCO whispered the name of a Gestapo junior officer.

‘I know that name. Captain Barbie mentioned him to me when he said he was arranging a car.’

The NCO visibly shook at the mention of the name Barbie. ‘I think it best,’ he said, ‘that you take our car to avoid further delay.’

The woman nodded her head in exasperation. ‘Yes, that would be a good idea.’

The NCO summoned a tall languid soldier who wore ordinary Wehrmacht field grey without a Sicherheitsdienst badge. ‘Take these people to Abwehr HQ immediately. Drive as quickly as possible.’

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