Monday, June 10, 2019

Book Review: Last Hope Island

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War 
image from here

It's been awhile since I've written a book review but I'm popping back in for this one. Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War by Lynne Olsen totally sucked me in. This book is about 430 pages of story (and another 150 pages of footnotes, etc), and is quite dense. However, I read it in about three days.

I think we all know that the US and Russia didn't enter World War II until 1941. Russia entered in June and the US not until December. However, World War II started in September 1939. This book begins in the spring of 1940 when Hitler marched further into Europe and various governments fled to London. Specifically we follow Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland and how the various governments/monarchs reacted to what was happening at home while exiled in London. While Petain and the Vichy government remained in limited power in southern France, DeGaulle, representing the Free French fled to London.

This book follows so many stories -- how DeGaulle fought for, and won, the legitimacy to represent France, how the Czech and Polish governments were out maneuvered and their countries' freedoms eventually sacrificed to the Soviets for the Allied cause (I don't think I will ever forget the chapter comparing and contrasting the liberation of Paris and the non-liberation of Warsaw). We learn how the king of Denmark and the queen of the Netherlands became symbols of hope for their countries, while at the same time the king of Luxembourg's actions were misunderstood and he was seen as a traitor to his country.

This book dove into the formation of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) and how they and MI6 worked against each other. It also talks a lot about how political maneuverings within SOE failed their agents on the ground in both the Netherlands and France (I found those heartbreaking chapters, especially the one about the Netherlands). It talked about individuals who risked everything (including their lives, their families' lives, and their friends' lives) to help Allied pilots make it to safety in Spain (or Switzerland -- I can't remember which).

I didn't realize that certain (seemingly minor) decisions made by the Allies potentially lengthened the war and increased suffering for certain countries at the hands of the Germans. After liberating most of France and some of Belgium and the Netherlands, the Allied forces took a two day rest in September 1944. That rest allowed the Germans to regroup and some German officials were quoted as saying, "We assumed the Allies would reach Berlin within two weeks and the war would be over. That rest allowed us to keep fighting." (Not a direct quote as I've returned the book to the library but that was the gist of it.) I can't even imagine. Also completely heartbreaking were the stories of Arnhem, The Netherlands in September 1944, the winter of starvation the Dutch endured in early 1945, and the non-liberation of Prague in spring 1945 -- did you know an Allied battalion was only 40 miles from Prague and ready to liberate it but the powers in charge said, "No"?

Something else I found fascinating was the role of the BBC and how it gave hope to people in the occupied countries. I will never again underestimate the freedom of being able to listen to the news however, and whenever, I want to.

Another really interesting aspect of the book was how Britain was the main power until the US and Soviets became involved and then Britain was basically left out of major decisions. And the six governments in London lost even more of their voice.

I could probably go on for another twelve paragraphs but I will leave you with this last sentence. In case, my raving hasn't already convinced you to read this book, pick it up. Read it. You will never look at World War II the same way again.


  1. I tried this book but I just couldn't stick with it! It was clearly a smart, educational book, but I just wasn't smart enough to stay with it. It was fun to read your review though! It felt like a mini cliffnotes of the book. :)

  2. I can't decide if I want to read this book myself or buy it for my dad, ha!


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