Did you know it’s considered that Ian Fleming took inspiration from Charles Fraser- Smith in forming James Bond inventor, Q? Charles Fraser- Smith was recruited by Section XV to invent ‘a series of extraordinary things‘ to help SOEs (special agents) and ‘the thousands of prisoners of war’ who’d ‘escaped and needed to find their way back to Britain‘.

His innovations included hollowed out items like smoking pipes and shaving brushers, fountain pens, golf balls, wine bottle corks’ and then ‘fake cigarettes‘. What’s more he could create a decide that could hold ‘a compass‘ or ‘a tiny telescope‘ in ‘items that looked like something else’. 

Charles Fraser-Smith is just one of more than twenty subjects in David Long’s compelling Spies. Through this mighty title, the author profiles special agents who worked ahead of WWII to after its conclusion. These are intrepid, cunning and courageous figures, many of whom have been lost in memory, through misunderstanding, or, more often, their own humility. Then again, there are people like singer Margery Booth, whose spying work was never appreciated, because she lived in Germany. What’s more, we realise anew, how many brave women participated in espionage, from Didi and Jacqueline Nearne, to the outstanding persuasive Krystyna Skarbek.

What’s more there are notorious scoundrels and double agents, such as Klaus Fuchs and Harry Cole.

Bookwagon is fascinated and awed by the stories within this superb book. We recommend Spies as a title for school libraries, as a wonderful book to lose yourself in, and then as a title to know about, read and share in class and home.

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David Long, illustrated by Terri Po

(Faber & Faber)

Award-winning non-fiction writer David Long, presents more than twenty biographies in Spies. His subjects are special agents who operated ahead of, during and as a result of WWII.
 Giliana Gerson, one of the first SOEs (Special Operations Executives) created a network of French resistance agents in occupied France. Not only did she spend an imaginary holiday ‘stealing or borrowing as many official identity documents as she could carry‘  but she memorised ‘train and bus timetables’. After all, this information critical to agents. Then again, she worked out ‘a secret route spies could use to get from one part of France to another without being stopped and questioned‘. Furthermore, we learn about Roald Dahl’s early war effort, as a British agent coercing the United States to join the war.
Thereafter, we read of double agents like Harry Cole and those who operated under plain sight like Josephine Baker. Then there are those agents who turned, like George Blake. Furthermore, there are those who paid the ultimate price for their work, like Noor-Un-Nissa Inayat Khan.
I’ve found myself recounting stories through reading this book, being awed by the wit, courage and tenacity of such astounding people. For example, the bravery of people like Virginia Hall or Claus Helberg? What’s more, the humility that’s evident is quite remarkable.
Bookwagon recommends Spies highly for its history, biography, geography and then the core values evident in its subjects. This is a mighty book in every way.


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