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A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945

by Leo Marks

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-86422-3
Publisher: Free Press

An exciting, witty, and compelling memoir of Great Britain’s cryptographic war against the Germans, by code-breaker (and - maker) Marks. Son of the proprietor of the famed bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road, the author pulled strings (taking advantage of the mistaken belief that he was related to a founder of the Marks and Spencer department store) to get a position as a cryptographer with the exclusive Special Operations Executive (SOE) branch of the British war effort. SOE was charged by Churchill with the mission of “setting Europe ablaze”; it had agents in every field of the war, who all had to send information and receive instructions. When 22-year-old Marks arrived at SOE in 1942, agents memorized poem-codes, which they transmitted from the field back to London. These were prone to operator error and troubles in transmission. Marks revolutionized this by printing one-time only codes on water-soluble silk. As an operative in the London office, Marks had a prime opportunity to observe some facet of almost every major allied intelligence operation of the war, and there seems to be little he doesn—t remember. Among the numerous famous Allied operations retold from Marks’s perspective (which almost always includes new nuggets of information), including the attacks on the German heavy-water plants, surveillance of the German fleet, and the continual struggles of the French Resistance. Marks paints a vivid portrait of London of that era, from the matrons who oversaw the young women in the coding office to the in-fighting of the various French factions, the privations of rationing, and his own attempts at getting ahead in the vast war machine. The hustle and bustle of London in the war years comes alive in this captivating story of keeping the Allies” secret agents secret.