Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

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The Alice Network

To tell the truth, much of this special work we do is quite boring. I think that’s why women are good at it. Our lives are already boring. (p 83)

Intelligence: knowing where the enemy is, what they are doing, what they are planning, what they are capable of. Information that gives a tactical advantage in war. One source of intelligence: unobtrusive eyes and ears. Add language skills to understand and code messages. Fine motor skills to write those messages in tiny letters or to pick locks. The people you would least expect. Women.

The true story of WW1 spy Louise de Bettignies is the launching pad for Kate Quinn’s novel, The Alice Network. Codenamed Alice Dubois (and nicknamed Lili in the novel), the “queen of spies” and her covert network worked behind German lines in northern France and Belgium. The information they passed to the British is credited with saving over 1000 lives. A message about the possibility of a German attack at Verdun planned for early 1916 was unfortunately not believed by the French military authorities. de Bettignies was arrested in October 1915 and died in prison in September 1918.

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Ashenden, or the British Agent

One unexpected pleasure of this project is delving into books written by authors I know by reputation, but never got around to reading. And so I welcome Somerset Maugham into my realm.

Maugham worked for the British Intelligence Department during WW1. Ashenden, or the British Agent is a series of related short stories based on his experiences. That said, Maugham is quick to note that the facts have been fictionalized: Continue reading