A Special Entry cadet from Ampleforth in 1939, following his cadet and midshipman's time ABB (1921-2010) volunteered for Special Service - so secret he could not be told what that was - and became a Beachmaster in an RN Commando group, first off the lead landing craft to control our landing in Sicily. This transmuted itself into clandestine missions in the Adriatic where ABB was taken prisoner in 1943. A failed escape earned him the gross brutality that the Germans delighted to levy on the defenceless. His further incarceration saw him creating the eyes for 'Albert RN', the lifelike dummy designed by his friend, the War Artist John Worley, that fooled the appel long enough to secure the escape of two prisoners. As the war drew to a close ABB and his confrères were marched to Lubeck where they were liberated. Once home ABB volunteered for pilot training (which stood him in good stead as a private flyer later) but soon decided that the post-war RN was not for him.
- A Bentley-Buckle
We then follow ABB's post-war life, mostly at sea in all sorts of boats and ships and maturing into a very sharp business man, serenely navigating the shoals of diplomacy, bureaucracy and graft in the western Indian Ocean, helped by his innate ability to make and then keep friends wherever his life took him. A natural risk taker, in war and peace he often sailed close-hauled, but always with a fine judgement that hardly ever let him down.
ABB's story is very modestly (and humorously) told, almost concealing the fact that he was a man of extraordinary resource and capability, for instance teaching himself watchmaking and locksmithing while incarcerated and later how to create and run a shipping line.
The text is illustrated by a variety of black and white illustrations including some sketches by Worley. There is a foreword by David Balme, a contemporary who is celebrated for lifting an Enigma machine from the sinking U 110. The notes at the back are really asides which, for continuity of reading, would be better placed either in the text or as page footnotes.
This is a fascinating adventure story, told in a very drily amusing and laid-back manner, which I thoroughly enjoyed.