THE FORGOTTEN NOVELS OF A BRITISH SECRET AGENT
After researching the life of a British Special Operation Executive agent, Oliver Churchill, who operated in German occupied Northern Italy in the autumn/winter of 1944, Andrea Cominini found that his brother, Peter, had also been an SOE agent and was one of the first agents operating in France during WWII. Peter carried out three missions, spending 225 days in enemy territory. Finally captured, he spent over two years in captivity. After the war he wrote four novels based on his wartime experiences. Reviewing his second book, The Daily Herald wrote: “Now Peter Churchill wrote one of the best spy books of all time”. The author describes the different literary genres in which Churchill’s works can be situated and – through a subsequent analysis of the novels – how they provide a clear and historical representation of everyday life of a British secret agent during WWII. Peter Churchill’s works are then compared to those of other novelists of his time, uncovering a range of connections with other related authors and literary genres. After the war, Churchill was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Croix de Guerre; his wife Odette, who worked with him as an underground courier during the war, was the first woman to receive the George Cross.
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Cominini’s book, with its emphasis on intertextuality, provides a valuable service in helping us understand how Peter Churchill became the celebrity that he did, and hence the focus of such impassioned controversy. His personal file is now available for public scrutiny in the British National Archives, and Cominini has drawn upon it to provide some valuable biographical information. Furthermore, he adds a fascinating and hitherto overlooked dimension to Churchill’s life as one of three extraordinary brothers as well as to the family that nurtured them. […] Like his two brothers, Peter was a man of enormous courage and resourcefulness and his books, however we classify them, are far from light-hearted as claimed by Foot and provide an authentic mirror of the everyday life of a British secret agent during the Second World War. They have been largely and undeservedly forgotten. Andrea Cominini is to be thanked profoundly for reminding us of their significant literary interest and historical value, as well as for documenting the extraordinary contribution of an English family at war.
- David Stafford -