qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Part Margaret Rutherford, part Rosa Klebb

Book Review: Queen of Spies - Daphne Park, Britain's Cold War Spy Master, by Paddy Hayes
The nice thing about the work book sale is its serendipity, coming across new books on topics I already find interesting, so this one seemed worth a try. The fact that I'd never heard of Park wasn't surprising; she rather predates the days of greater openness at the top of the security services. Park was born in Britain and brought up in Tanganyika, but hardly from the governing colonial class, her father panning for gold. The local school dropped hints that she was talented enough to merit education back in Britain, and she was shipped off to aunts in London, then on to Somerville College in Oxford. Following university, she joined up and found her way into SOE, working towards D-Day with the Jedburghs, training them in radio operations and French. After some ups and downs with military discipline she flew out to Algiers to take a hand in arranging their drops into southern France.

After the war, she remained in SOE and subsequently transferred into SIS with a posting in Vienna. Several chapters deal at length with postings to Moscow in the early 1950s, the Congo around 1960, Zambia in 1964, and Vietnam in 1969, providing not only what can be discerned about Park's roles there, but also the background in London at the time, particularly regarding strife between MI5 and MI6, and the emergence of the Cambridge spy ring. There's also a curious and unexplained three-month posting to Ulaanbaatar; presumably Hayes drew a blank over documentation on its purpose. For the final years of her career Park was "Controller/Western Hemisphere" based in London, dealing mainly with the Americas but also some work, because of her African experience, related to the final years of the Rhodesian regime. Park "retired" into the Principalship of Somerville, a transition which she didn't find easy, but apparently adjusted to over time.

A theme emerges that she didn't take "no" for an answer, as various presumed rules and conventions were broken, but she generally managed to justify other people's actions in recruiting her. Apparently she expressed quite a strong dislike of John Le Carrés depiction of the service; though ironically, it is that air of disillusionment and harking for far off halcyon days of successful operations that regularly comes through here. Overall I would describe this as interesting, though perhaps not compelling.
Tags: books
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