Monthly Archives: August 2017

Recommended Read – First Of The Tudors by Joanna Hickson

Jasper Tudor, son of Queen Catherine and her second husband, Owen Tudor, has grown up far from the intrigue of the royal court. But after he and his brother Edmund are summoned to London, their half-brother, King Henry VI, takes a keen interest in their future.
Bestowing Earldoms on them both, Henry also gives them the wardship of the young heiress Margaret Beaufort. Although she is still a child, Jasper becomes devoted to her and is devastated when Henry arranges her betrothal to Edmund.
He seeks solace in his estates and in the arms of Jane Hywel, a young Welsh woman who offers him something more meaningful than a dynastic marriage. But passion turns to jeopardy for them both as the Wars of the Roses wreak havoc on the realm. Loyal brother to a fragile king and his domineering queen, Marguerite of Anjou, Jasper must draw on all his guile and courage to preserve their throne − and the Tudor destiny…

First Of The Tudors’ is a sequel to two novels about Catherine of Valois by Joanna Hickson (‘The Agincourt Bride’ and ‘The Tudor Bride’), but you do not have to have read these to enjoy ‘First Of The Tudors’ which can be read as a stand-alone novel. The author cleverly interweaves the backstory of Jasper Tudor and his family into this captivating and exciting novel to give a full understanding of previous events without slowing the pace of the story.

As with all good historical fiction this book weaves together historical figures and fictional characters to give a rich tapestry of life in another time and place. Ms Hickson accomplishes this by the clever use of two narrators – Jasper Tudor and his mistress Jane Hywel. Although Jane is a fictional character it is known that Jasper had children and so the creation of a mistress who cares for the young Henry Tudor is not unbelievable. In introducing Jane into her novel the author brings a balance between court life and intrigue, the domestic life and childhood of the young boy who was to grow up to be Henry VII, and how the events which led to the Wars of the Roses impacted on both spheres of Jasper’s  life.

Ms Hickson  peoples her novel with many historical figures from Jasper Tudor, the little known figure behind the rise of one of the greatest dynasties in British history, to Margaret Beaufort who enters the novel as an innocent and vulnerable girl yet grows to be a strong and influential individual capable of clever political manipulation to protect her beloved son, Henry. Henry VII is often overshadowed by his son Henry VIII and granddaughter Elizabeth I so it is interesting to see how, as a boy, he was shaped by his situation, his mother, and his uncle into a young  man who would be able to go on to found a dynasty; I look forward to finding out more about his life in the sequel to ‘First Of The Tudors’, which is due to be published next year.

First Of The Tudors’ is a character driven novel which paints a totally believable picture of life in the fifteenth century thanks to the meticulous research of the author. Her language is free-flowing and emotive, and her descriptions of place clearly recognisable to anyone who has visited any of the locations mentioned (Pembroke Castle, for example). It is the mark of a good writer of historical fiction that Ms Hickson is able to present a totally believable interpretation of a known historical story by the inclusion of fictional characters and speech without detracting from the facts as they are known. I found it interesting that the author chose to present this story through the eyes of the enigmatic figure of Jasper Tudor, a man who is rarely studied yet played such an incredibly important role when he became protector of his young nephew Henry VII at a time of incredible danger for the Lancastrians, and continued to lend advice and support for many years to come.

If you enjoy a multi-faceted view of history which brings to life people and places which have, for many years, been left in the shadows, then ‘First Of The Tudors’ is the book for you.

First Of The Tudors is available on Amazon

You can find out more about Joanna Hickson here

You can find more of my Recommended Reads here

 

A life on the line – SOE radio operators in the Second World War

England. June 1940. Things looked bleak for the Allies after the fall of France and the retreat from Dunkirk, Britain was on the defensive and most people believed that the invasion of England would soon begin. In an effort to take some of the fight to the enemy Winston Churchill authorised Hugh Dalton, the Minister of Economic Warfare, to set up a clandestine organization to help form, supply and run resistance movements in occupied countries. This new Special Operations Executive (SEO) was to be responsible for recruiting and training agents who would then be sent behind enemy lines. (The work of the SOE). One of the most difficult roles which members of the SOE undertook was that of wireless operator.

The early equipment needed by radio operators was cumbersome – a short-wave morse transceiver (capable of both sending and receiving messages) weighing a hefty 30 pounds along with a flexible aerial 70 feet long – all of which had to be concealed in a suitcase 2 feet long. It was hard to be inconspicuous and not act suspiciously whilst carrying such incriminating equipment in enemy held territory. The SOE realised how important the correct equipment would be for the survival of their agents and began to design their own lighter and more portable sets. The culmination of this work was the Paraset, a major improvement as it weighed just 9 pounds and was small enough to carry in a small attache case yet powerful enough to send and receive messages over distances in excess of 500 miles.

Paraset Mk II, 1943

An SOE wireless operator had to know the area they worked in intimately. It was vital that they transmit from a different place, and only very briefly, each time they made contact with base as it was estimated that, in an urban environment, the Germans were able to track down a transmitter in around half an hour. Agents also had to create schedules for their transmissions which did not involve making contact on the same day of the week or at the same time of day, as any sort of pattern which could be identified by the Germans would be disasterous. The ideal for an agent was to set up, transmit, dismantle and get away within a maximum of 20 minutes to avoid capture and torture. To be found transmitting would almost certainly mean death to the operator, but it could also be devastating to the resistance group they worked with. If the enemy captured a transceiver and code books they would try to use them to trap the rest of the grouup. To try to prevent such deceptions each wireless operator was instructed to spell certain words incorrectly – if a transmission was made with the word spelt correctly the handler back in England would know that the operator had been compromised and, hopefully, have time to warn field agents in time for them to make good their escape.

Noor Inayat Khan, a member of the SOE who was executed by the Germans

The majority of radio operators sent behind enemy lines by the SOE were women as it as believed that they would be able to move around with their equipment without drawing as much attention to themselves as a man would. After all, it was quite common for women to be out shopping with a bag during the day whilst a man in a similar situation would be much more conspicuous. The women who signed up to do this work were under no illusions as to the importance, and the danger, of what they were committing to – the life expectancy of as SOE wireless operator working in Occupied France was just six weeks. (The Women Who Spied For Britain)

Some resistance groups were set up by the SOE whilst others were formed by locals with SOE support, yet regardless of how they began all groups received their instructions directly from England (or one of the subsidiary bases in other theatres of war, such as Cairo). The wireless operator in the ‘circuit’ lived in isolation with only brief contact with a single member of the group. It was a lonely existence in order to protect the remainder of the group. A wireless operator would not take part in operations such as sabotage, their only role was to be responsible for transmitting orders, or arranging the transport of agents and drops of supplies. In the early days all transmissions went through the radio station at Bletchley Park but the SOE later had its own stations at Poundon and Grendon Underwood – messages from the field would come in there to be forwarded to SOE HQ in London by teleprinter.

Security was vital in this clandestine world, both for the agent in the field and the information being transmitted. One way of ensuring security was by having an agent who knew how to transmit safely and securely, but the use of codes was also incredibly important. To begin with insecure poem codes were used, but these led to a number of disasters and so Leo Marks was made chief cryptographer. As part of his role Marks helped to develop single use ciphers printed on silk in an effort to save agents lives. The reason for such an expensive material was simple – it didn’t make a rustling sound like paper so, once concealed in the lining of clothing, it would not be detectable during a casual search.

Wireless operators who served behind enemy lines played an incredibly important role during the Second World War, particularly in the weeks leading up to the D Day landings in June 1944. Without their courage and sacrifice the war could have dragged on for months longer, and many more lives been lost. In my novel, Heronfield, one of the characters is a young woman who places her life on the line to be an SOE wireless operative in St Nazaire. My creation is an amalgamation of many women who served, and is my tribute to them all.