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The Wildest Province

416 pages

From the summer of 1943, small teams of elite British soldiers began to parachute into Axis-occupied Albania. These men belonged to Britain's Special Operations Executive, a secret organisation set up early in the Second World War to encourage resistance and carry out sabotage behind enemy lines. Their task was to find and support bands of local guerrillas and harass the Axis as best they could. None of these young Britons had been there before or knew what was waiting for them.

Trying to survive in extreme conditions and formidable terrain, SOE missions lived in constant danger of capture and death and were plagued by illness, lice and frostbite. Casualties were appalling. Most guerrillas, meanwhile, seemed keener to kill each other than fight Italians and Germans. British backing went eventually to Albania's communist-led partisans. It remains a controversial choice. Their leader, Enver Hoxha, seized power at the end of the war and was to rule with a brutal hand for forty years.

In The Wildest Province, Roderick Bailey draws on interviews with survivors, long-hidden diaries and recently declassified files to tell the full story of this remarkable corner of SOE history. Through the experiences of individual SOE officers, including Anthony Quayle, the actor, and Julian Amery, the future MP and Minister, he reveals the grim realities of life in the field. He looks, too, at the dilemmas faced and created as the British sought to decide which guerrillas to arm. And by shedding light on what was going on at SOE headquarters, Bailey settles the enduring question of whether or not British communists in SOE, perhaps even colleagues of the Cambridge spies, had conspired to lead British policy astray.

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The Wildest Province