I spy: Secrets of the Rue St Roche, Janet Morgan (2004)

I don’t know that this is necessarily a book that I would have bought, but I was given it as a present, and it proved an extremely interesting read. We don’t tend to think of spies and the Great War as going together, they are something that belong far more to WW2 in the popular imagination. And yet the British security services, MI5 and MI6 had their origins during the Great War. In this book, Janet Morgan documents an intelligence operation based in Paris during the latter part of the Great War, geared towards gaining advance knowledge of German troop movements, and thus of any potential planned advances.

The operation began with the serendipitous meeting of a middle aged Luxemburger with the head of the Paris operation in the spring of 1917. This lady lived near the massive rail junction in Luxemburg city, and the intelligence officer realised that if they could find a way for the information to get out of occupied Luxemburg, they would have vital intelligence that could help them win the war. It certainly stopped them losing it. After many false starts the operation finally got going in early 1918, just before the German March offensive.

It’s not so much a history, as I suppose, narrative non-fiction. It’s written as a story, which seems somehow less authoritative. Or perhaps I’m just used to my history in dull, dusty tomes. I enjoyed the insight into a largely forgotten area of the war, and it was well written, so I can’t complain on that front.

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