Mensch Publishing, 15 September 2020, £20, Hardback
This is a unique book. Using for the first time the full unpublished letters of Pilot Officer Geoffrey Myers it offers a fresh and distinctive insight into World War 2.
While Geoffrey Myers was a caught up in the major turning points of the early years of that war – the Battle for France, Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain – his French wife and two half-Jewish children were trapped in Nazi-occupied France, desperate to escape the enemy and be reunited with her husband in England.
These secret letters were never posted and never read by Geoffrey’s family until later in the war. They were designed to be read if he was killed. They begin, ‘Three months now, and I have kept silent. I have been hoping to write letters that would reach you. I have been wanting to do something that would help you to escape from Occupied France and to get us all out of this living grave.’
Contemporary personal accounts of the Battle of Britain of such frankness are extremely rare. Individual narratives on this scale, encompassing two of the great turning points of the war, the Battle of Britain and Dunkirk, and much else besides, just do not exist. So the letters from Geoffrey Myers to his family are unique, offering an original insight from a witness to so much history. More than that, the letters tell a powerful love story between two people caught up in war, and at real risk of never seeing each other again.
As a Daily Telegraph journalist before the war, Geoffrey Myers writes with eloquence and insight and, because his notebooks were not designed to be published, the letters are an unvarnished, sometimes brutal, portrayal of war as his Battle of Britain Squadron suffers terrible losses. As an Intelligence Officer, Geoffrey was well placed to understand the chaos all around him but his letters are shot through with humanity, and sometimes humour.
While Geoffrey wrote his account of the war for his children to read if he survived, his family were in mortal danger. As a Jew he understood only too well what would happen if the Nazis discovered his children hiding in Occupied France. For months he had no idea if his family were dead or alive, free or imprisoned. His letters reflect his deep love for his wife, Margot, and children and his acute anxiety for their safety, as they try to escape the tightening net of the Nazis and head south through France and Spain. Unique interviews with his wife offer insight into her remarkable story during those precarious months.
This moving story of a couple whose love is caught in the crossfire of war is a powerful and rare portrait of, not only the turbulent events of those times, but also how a family survives with so much death and danger swirling around them both.
John Willis is one of the best known figures in the television industry. He held the position as Chairman of BAFTA between 2012 – 2014 and then as its Deputy Chairman until 2016. He was appointed Chair of the One World Media in September 2014 and has served in a long list of high profile roles including Director of Programmes at Channel 4, Managing Director of LWT and United Productions, Vice President of National Programmes at WGBH and BBC’s Director of Factual and Learning. He is currently Chairman of Mentorn and Group Creative Director of Tinopolis.