Popski's Private Army
This is an account of military adventures in the Middle East and Italy during World War 2. Its author makes an unlikely hero: a Belgian-born Russian, ... Show synopsis This is an account of military adventures in the Middle East and Italy during World War 2. Its author makes an unlikely hero: a Belgian-born Russian, educated at Cambridge, he had spent most of his working life in the Egyptian sugar-refining industry, but only found true fulfilment during the war. Feeling himself to be an outsider, he desperately wanted to be accepted by the British army when war broke out in 1939. He enthusiastically lists his talents: "A good deal of technical and administrative experience - a few languages - some knowledge of most European countries and of the Middle East - I could fly a light single-engined plane, sail a small boat, drive a truck in the desert". It was not, however, until 1942 that the British army found a way to exploit these talents to the full: they created the smallest independent unit in the British army of just 23 men and put the author in charge. Provisional titles such as "No 1 Demolition Squadron", "Desert Raiders", and "Jebel Rats" were all rejected in favour of "Popski's Private Army", employing the nickname by which the author was always known to his comrades. Their role in the Middle East combined reconnaissance, intelligence work, and sabotage: "I would, I decided", writes Popski, "employ my unit in spreading alarm and despondency, a much-derided policy". A policy which they continued on crossing into Italy in 1943, where they operated behind enemy lines.