Book Review – Cyanide In My Shoe

Scary, eh?

I just finished reading the book with this title by Josephine Butler. She was one of the ‘chosen’ people for a ‘Secret Circle’ of Winston Churchill,  her being the only woman. She never met or knew the other members, but had many meetings with the Prime Minister himself, always in secret. She had no idea why what and how dangerous the work was going to be that she was asked to do. Since she grew up, went to school, and even studied in France, she spoke the language like a native. Therefore, she was frequently sent to France after it had capitulated to the Nazis. She was dropped off or had to jump out of a Lysander two-seater plane in remote areas. She still had friends in Paris and other cities of the country, and these helped her to build up resistance cells under life-threatening circumstances.

Occasionally, while reading of her ‘adventures,’ my hair stood on edge, other times, I realized I had stopped breathing. What this woman’s life during the years between 1938 and 1945 was like, deprives every description. Furthermore, what the French people had to endure under the Nazi occupation makes you realize the danger of a repeat if you follow present-day politics. Winston Churchill referred to her as ‘Jay Bee’ during those years, and once commented to someone who had asked why a woman: “95% brain, 5% sex.” When she learnt of it and had a chance, she told the Prime Minister: “I have just as much sex as any woman, given the right place and time.” To which he replied with a twinkle in his eyes, “Let me know about it” – or something to that extent.

When WW II was over, Churchill asked her to take an assignment in Germany, but she declined. She wanted to stay in the country and see things grow. She asked him to allow her to write a book about her experiences someday. “Wait at least twenty years,” he told her.  “Do not write fiction, or nonfiction or near fiction, write only the truth. Be careful not to mention names of buildings, or people, unless it is to their benefit.” She waited even longer. She had written a manuscript “Churchill’s Secret Agent” in 1983, on which she based her book “Cyanide In My Shoe.” It was first published in 1991.

I had written the book “We Don’t Talk About That” about my family’s experiences during WW II, how ordinary German people reacted to the Nazis, and then, finally going through the ordeal with the Russian invasion. Probably very similar to the atrocities committed by the Nazis in France or later, in Poland and Russia. I knew a lot of the history surrounding the Allied powers, eventually joining the war to defeat Germany. Winston Churchill had a hard time to hold them back until they could be sure to end the war with victory. He did not want to grant Germany a “conditional surrender” but was only satisfied with an “unconditional surrender.” I must admit, I learnt more from reading Josephine Butler’s book.

I like to say ‘thank you’ to the friend, who loaned it to me. A real treasure. Yes, the book – and the friend.

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