Thrilled to be hosting one of the final stops on this Blog Tour
|Imperial War Museum Classics|
26 September 2019
My thanks to the publishers and Random Things Tours for the opportunity to be part of this blog tour
A candid account of SOE operations in occupied Europe described by Andrew Roberts as ‘As well as being one of our greatest actors, Anthony Quayle was an intrepid war hero and his autobiographical novel is one of the greatest adventure stories of the Second World War. Beautifully written and full of pathos and authenticity, it brings alive the terrible moral decisions that have to be taken by soldiers under unimaginable pressures in wartime.’
I'm honoured to be able to share an exclusive extract from Eight Hours from England
It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when I heard running feet outside my hut, then Chela’s voice, an octave higher than usual, crying:
‘Major! Quick, quick! The Germans are coming!’
The alarm and urgency in his voice brought me squirming out through the doorway. He must have given a general alarm already, for the Italians had caught fright and were running helter-skelter out of the camp towards the track that led down to the beach. Chela was jigging about with nerves.
‘Major,’ he pleaded. ‘Please… Please… We cannot stay… run quick.’ He wrung his hands.
‘Shut up, Chela,’ I said. ‘Calm down and tell me what has happened?’
The whole of Chela’s face was contorted with fear. He started to gabble.
‘They are coming. They are coming. From the south.’
‘How do you know this?’
‘A shepherd has come running. They have just shot his dog.’
The last sentence had a ring of truth: it decided me.
‘Major.’ There were tears in his eyes. ‘I am responsible for you… Quickly.’
By now there was a knot of Americans and British round us, most of them ready carrying their packs and weapons.
‘All right. Leave camp. Quick as you can. Operators – don’t forget – hang on tight to your crystals and signal plans.’
I dived back into the hut. I had few signals to burn; all was ready. I grabbed my pack and gun, and in a moment we were all running down the only track that led out of camp northwards – down the hill to the beach.
‘How much of a start have we?’ I called to Chela.
‘Perhaps ten minutes, perhaps half an hour,’ he called back. ‘I don’t know.’
The steep track was sodden with rain, and the running feet of seventy men had turned it into a slippery morass. Drake’s feet shot from under him and he landed on his back in the mud.
‘F— this for a lark,’ he declared as he was pulled to his feet.
As I ran I found that I was half frightened and half enjoying myself, as though I were taking part in a very exciting game of hare and hounds.
Now we had reached the beach, and now the only way of escape was up three hundred feet of absolutely bare hill-side. Already my back was aching under the heavy pack, and my heart sank as I surveyed the precipitous slope.
‘This is where we’ll get it,’ said Nigel. He was fetching his breath in gulps, but at the same time laughing. ‘They’ll pick us off like rabbits as we go up this.’
‘The only alternative is to be trapped here on the beach,’ I said. ‘Come on. Up we go.’
We began the climb, digging our fingers into the ground, the loose shale slipping away beneath our boots. All about men were swarming up the scree. Grunting and panting we toiled upwards till we were on a level with the abandoned camp. The American sergeant, coming behind me, stopped for a moment to look back. Suddenly he gave a great cry.
‘There they are! I seen ‘em! I seen ‘em!’
‘Where are they, Butch?’ I called over my shoulder.
‘Coming into camp,’ he panted. ‘I seen ‘em duck behind some rocks.’
As I climbed on I thought: ‘This is the end then. I have often wondered how it would come. Now I know. Any moment a bullet will smack into me, and a khaki bundle that was Overton will go tumbling down the hill on to the beach.’
About the Author
Anthony Quayle was a renowned Shakespearean actor, director and film star and during the Second World War was a Special Operations Executive behind enemy lines in Albania.
Twitter @I_W_M #wartimeclassics