ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
This most interesting book allows a peek into the complex world of military intelligence and its shifting interfaces with British civilian intelligence, diplomacy and international affairs over the latter half of the 20th century. It draws on family archives, letters and photographs and the Colonel’s life is woven into the changing dynamics of world events starting in 1920s India, service in the Second World War in a number of theatres before specialising in military intelligence and diplomacy in a wide variety of postings many of which were behind the Iron Curtain in the coldest days of that struggle.

His family lived in India though he was born in Kent in 1921 (mothers often returned to the UK for childbirth). His childhood was spent in the Raj before moving back to the UK in 1929. After enlisting in the TA (slightly under-age) he transferred to the Regular Army and his first years were spent on the South Coast in the phoney war. By 1941, however, he was serving with a Sikh unit back in India and goes on to the Indian Para Brigade seeing action in Burma and Thailand.

After WW2 he returned to the UK but is soon posted to West Berlin with the Yorks and Lancs (later to be absorbed into The Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire). Here there are some uncanny parallels with my Army life, all 20 to 30 years before my time; Berlin, Rudolf Hess, language training, BRIXMIS and such like.

There then follows a fascinating journey via learning Bulgarian, Russian and French with postings in Paris and Sofia plus spells in Turkey, Sudan and Cyprus from the late 1940s to the late 1960s. The backdrop of the Cold War, the Korean War, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia are all explained in great detail drawing on a very wide bibliography. Later chapters bring us through the 70s, 80s and 90s via such events as Ex Able Archer, the SALT negotiations the rise and fall of Gorbachev, wars in the Balkans right up to the rise of Trump and Putin.

Having served from 1938 to 1984 Lt Col Sanderson became a reserve officer and is sent on a final mission to Sarajevo in 1995 aged 74 where his language skills and knowledge of the Balkans are once again pressed into service. A great deal of emphasis is placed on networking skills and the crucial role played in these matters by friends and spouses. There are insights into recruiting and running agents, betrayal, show trials and executions and internal UK friction between different agencies.

Lt Col Sanderson died in December 2001 and this book has been finished by his son. It is a wonderful paean to a father who lived a most eventful and influential life for 80 years during enormous upheavals in global affairs.

Review by: Brotherton Lad

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