A debut biography recounts a man’s perilous adventures during both world wars.
John Harrington grew up in the Australian Outback in Fremantle in the inaugural years of the 20th century. Since his father lived far away in Sydney and his mother was largely indifferent to his existence, John was raised by Cluba, an aboriginal woman for whom he had a son’s affection. He eventually moved to England for schooling and trained to be an engineer, but once World War I erupted, he joined the reserves and was assigned to the “Signal Section” of the Royal Field Artillery. He was sent to France and soon witnessed up close the carnage of war in Belgium. Badly wounded, he nearly lost his leg to amputation. John returned to England and held several jobs—including reporter and photographer for two newspapers—until he responded to a cryptic advertisement looking for a clerk with German language skills. He was hired as a passport clerk at the British Consulate in Berlin, an office that doubled as the headquarters for the secret service. There John was recruited for various espionage missions, including purloining technical drafts of the German Enigma machine, the famous cryptographic device. Later, during World War II, John worked unofficially for the Royal Air Force, aiding it in locating high-value bomb targets in Berlin. When John was reassigned to England, he was tasked with helping with the Ultra code-breaking machine. The exhilarating book is written by his daughter, D.F. Harrington, based on his oral stories. While the author’s prose lacks any literary quality, it’s dependably lucid, and the work is well-structured. But the principal virtue of the remembrance is the extraordinariness of John’s life—he managed to meet an eclectic cast of historically significant figures, including Harry Houdini, Alfred Hitchcock, and Joseph Goebbels. John nearly went on a date with Eva Braun. In addition, the powerful record provided of Germany’s descent into tyranny under Hitler, including the savage inhospitableness to Jews, is as disturbing as it is edifying.
A remarkable peek into the ascendancy of the Nazi Party in Germany and the march to global conflict.