The Twins

The Twins

Peter Jacobs
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
This is an interesting book, covering the story of two of the lesser-known SOE activists in France during the Second World War. The Newton Brothers made their living as music hall entertainers, the Boorn Brothers, across Europe and the USA. Both married, they lived with their parents, wives, and children in France.

In 1941, already running a network of saboteurs and safe houses for downed pilots, they made arrangements to send their parents, wives and children to safety in England whilst they stayed behind to carry on the fight. Sadly the entire family was lost on the passenger ship SS Avoceta, torpedoed by a German U-Boat, whose captain claimed he confused it with an oil tanker!

Returning to England themselves to enlist and take revenge for this act, they were recruited to SOE, where they were known as The Twins, despite an age difference greater than ten years. After training they returned to France and set up a network based on Lyon. This chapter of their life was particularly interesting as the author gives an insight into the infighting between French Resistance Groups, which often caused the loss of life for SOE and other resisters, and information about the Milice Francais, and organisation I hadn’t heard of, but which consisted of French Nazis, who appear to have been worse than the Gestapo in their behaviour towards their fellow Frenchmen. (What is it about the French? The minute the guillotine arrived in villages in the 18th Century, folk were lining up to denounce their neighbours, and here they were at it again 200 years later!)

The author has done a lot of research into his subject, and writes of the lack of security and care shown by certain resisters, which led inevitably to the capture and death of many of their number, and also to the Twins appearing on the Germans’ ‘most wanted ‘ list. Ultimately they were betrayed, and spent time as guests of Klaus Barbie before being moved to Fresnes for further interrogation and deportation to Buchenwald. Which they survived, thanks to some devious tricks which the author describes after talking to survivors.

On return to England after the war, many SOE records had been destroyed, so their entitlements to back pay, promotion pay, and recognition for their work were ‘lost’ too, along with the personal possessions they had left in ‘safe storage’ before they went to France. However they were both awarded the MBE!

This is a well-written, well-researched book, about two incredibly brave men who knew they had nothing to lose but each other, and fought hard for a country they called home. Like many heroes of their time they were let down during the aftermath of war, but settled uncomplaining into working life, dealing with their problems, and any emotional damage resulting from their losses and experiences with no civic help and no expectation of help from a ‘grateful nation’. It should be mandatory reading for the snowflake generation.

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