In 1942, with a black-market chicken under his arm, Leo Marks left his father's famous bookshop, 84 Charing Cross Road, and went to war. He was twenty-two and a cryptopgraher of genius. In Between Silk and Cyanide, his critically acclaimed account of his time in SOE, Marks tells how he revolutionised the code-making techniques of the Allies, trained some of the most famous agents dropped into France including Violette Szabo and 'the White Rabbit', and why he wrote haunting verse including his 'The Life that I have' poem. He reveals for the first time the disastrous dimensions of the code war between SOE and the Germans in Holland; how the Germans were fooled into thinking a Secret Army was operating in the Fatherland itself, and how and why he broke General de Gaulle's secret code. Both thrilling and poignant, Marks's book is truly one of the last great Second World War memoirs.
A well-paced war diary, Markss memoir traces the strategically vital creation of secure codes for Allied agents operating in Nazi-occupied territories. Marks was in his early 20s during the war, a civilian with military rank in Britains elite Special Operations Executive, a prodigy immersed in a pasty world of subterranean old men. Though Marks rarely ventured out of his basement office, his book builds a delicate tension as he describes working frantically to develop codes that the Nazis could neither crack nor imitate, as they did with the standard Allied poem code. Markss contributions to such historically significant events as the destruction of Norsk Hydro, the heavy water plant on which the Germans pinned their hopes for atomic weapons, and to the concealment of preparations for D-Day, are effectively balanced against such workaday concerns as finding quantities of silk onto which codes could be photographed. Although Markss account is more anecdotal than researched, his unique position as chief developer of Britains secure communications, along with an impishness that led him to break De Gaulles secret French code (off-limits to the non-French Allies) or rib his older compatriots (Davies nodded so hard he almost lost a jowl) give his book an authoritative and laconic punch.
Between Silk and Cyanide
A must read for anyone interested in SOE, secret agents or codes. Leo Marks account is honest, humorous and so well written you just can't put this book down. It is an insight into what went on behind the scenes in WW2 which was top secret at the time. Huge respect to Leo Marks and to all the agents who risked their lives for our freedom and the many who gave the ultimate sacrifice of suffering and death.