My War  [9781872836850]

My War
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Date Added: Monday 24. October, 2011
Behind Enemy Lines in France and Burma with the Special Operations Executive
Harry Verlander

Most people did their "bit" when required to do so during the Second World War, but some went much further, beyond anything that could reasonably be expected. One of those was Harry Verlander.

Harry had previously tried to join the Commandos and the parachute regiments but, as he wore glasses, he had not been considered suitable. So when the chance arose for him to volunteer for "special duties" he applied immediately. Those special duties turned out to be with the three man teams which would be sent into France and the Low Countries to help organise resistance amongst the local population during the D-Day invasion and after. Named after a town in the Scottish Borders, they were the Jedburghs.

After helping drive the Germans out of the Deux Sevres region of France, Verlander returned to the UK. Though the German's grip upon the occupied countries was loosening, the Japanese still had a firm hold upon their territories and Verlander was soon on his way to India to join Force 136.

The objective of team "Walrus" was to infiltrate Japanese-held districts and attack their lines of communication. The area in which the team was to operate extended approximately seventy-five miles southward from Loi-Kaw and fifty miles westward from the Siamese border. On some of the maps they had been given there were many blank areas marked as "un-surveyed jungle".

Harry Verlander's first contact with the Japanese, having seen the devastation they had wrought on a Burmese village, created a deep impression on him. As he recalled: "Shooting at Germans caused me no ill feeling, only justifiable revenge. But that partly destroyed village we had passed through on the way was different. I was told that the Japs had, in passing through, killed those unable to run away into the bush, the sick and the elderly. The remains of a skinned dog had been left hanging from a tree. Any other animals or food were destroyed before leaving and huts damaged or burnt. Why would that have been necessary?"

Amongst the Walrus team's activities were attacks upon Japanese convoys. In one such ambush Verlander witnessed a particularly distasteful scene. "As I stood behind a tree and looked back down the road I could see burning vehicles and bodies lying on and beside the road. One injured man was dragging himself along the ground crawling towards the ditch, another standing over him with a pistol pointing down on him. This man had come out from behind one of the vehicles and it looked like a Japanese officer. He shot the injured man in the head."

This is just one of the many graphic accounts related by Harry Verlander, particularly regarding the war behind the Japanese lines which has not previously received much exposure. What makes this book particularly fascinating is the down-to-earth manner in which Verlander recounts his actions. He does not try to glorify either the war or his own personal contribution and this makes the book all the more valuable. It will certainly be an important source of information for historians of the future.

Nevertheless, those were exciting days for a young man such as Harry Verlander. He volunteered for special duties not knowing what he would be expected to face and he undertook every task in a straightforward, no-nonsense fashion. He lived, as the saying goes, in interesting times.

Reviewed by Robert Mitchell
Britain at War Magazine– October 2011
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars! [5 of 5 Stars!]
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