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Softly Softly

Capturing Hitler’s Spies


Tony Matthews

Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2024

Paperback   352pp   RRP $32,99


Reviewer: Robert Dixon, May 2024


Relying almost entirely upon previously highly classified MI5 files, this book tells the dramatic stories of five German spies. In each case the author provides a very detailed account of their capture and subsequent fate. Unfortunately, in some of the cases, I think the account is far too detailed. Let me give you one example: I begin with some background. One of the spies had been discovered by young farm labourers in a field near Warboys, a village in Huntingdonshire. When discovered he had a parachute and a German pistol. The boys alerted a member of the Home Guard named James Godfrey who went to the scene. The spy was taken into custody and after some months was tried, sentenced to death and executed. After the execution a number of newspaper reporters tried to find out more about the capture of the spy. They also wanted to take a photo of the Home Guard person involved. That meant travelling to Warboys.

At this point in the story the author (p 52 of the book) writes: ‘A reporter for the Daily Express spoke with a man named Alfred Ilett of Warboys who gave him James Godfrey’s name. The reporter was then driven in his chauffeured car to the house of William Pittuck who was the Huntingdon representative of the Daily Express. The reporter was attempting to engage a local photographer. Pittuck introduced the journalist to Miss Ada Bullen, a photographer’s assistant who worked just across the road in High Street at the photographic business owned by Mr Whitney. Returning together to see Mr Alfred Ilett, it was Ilett who told the reporter where to find Godfrey. Ilett just happened to be one of Godfrey’s friends. In fact Ilett invited them inside and his wife telephoned Godfrey’s mother and then passed the phone to the reporter so that he could speak to her personally. Soon afterwards both the reporter and photographer drove to the Godfrey family home and interviewed Godfrey who was dressed in his Home Guard uniform at the time. Having taken the required photograph, Miss Bullen handed the film to the reporter and Miss Bullen was returned home.’

It is a pity that off-putting material like this has found its way into the book as the stories of each of the spies are very interesting. The author shows that the security services withheld relevant information from a court trying one of the spies with the result that he was executed when, had the court been given the information, he might well have been spared the death sentence. It is findings like this that will attract the interest of readers keen to learn more about the activities of British counter-espionage agencies in the Second World War.

The font size is very ‘reader-friendly’ and the book has endnotes and a useful index, but no bibliography or guide to further reading.

Tony Matthews has dedicated almost his entire adult life to writing and researching Australian history. He also writes extensively on military and espionage history with a specific emphasis on both world wars. He is the author of more than 30 books including several historical novels.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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