Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for Eight Hours From England by Anthony Quayle!

Here’s a little info about the book:

Autumn 1943. Realising that his feelings for his sweetheart are not reciprocated, Major John Overton accepts a posting behind enemy lines in Nazi-Occupied Albania. Arriving to find the situation in disarray, he attempts to overcome geographical challenges and political intrigues to set up a new camp in the mountains overlooking the Adriatic.

As he struggles to complete his mission amidst a chaotic backdrop, Overton is left to ruminate on loyalty, comradeship and his own future.

Based on Anthony Quayle s own wartime experience with the Special Operations Executive (SOE), this new edition of a 1945 classic includes a contextual introduction from IWM which sheds new light on the fascinating true events that inspired its author.

And about author Anthony Qualye:

Anthony Quayle (1913-1989) was best known as a British actor and theatre director, receiving both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations and featuring in a number of successful films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Ice Cold in Alex. During the Second World War Quayle served in the Royal Artillery, and later joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whence he was deployed to Albania. Eight Hours from England is a fictionalised account of Quayle s time behind enemy lines there.

And here’s Paul Burke’s review of Eight Hours From England:

This is not meant to be flippant but imagine being sent to a country you know nothing about, in this case Albania. The culture is something you have little understanding of, and you don’t speak the language. WWII has been raging for four years, there are two warring guerrilla groups vying with each other for regional control as well as battling the Germans. The enemy, the Germans, took over in Albania in 1943 after the death of Mussolini and there are remnants of the Italian army who invaded in 1939 on all three sides. That’s exactly the situation that Major John Overton finds himself in in this novel and his story is based on Quayle’s own wartime experience. Overton’s mission is to befriend the guerrillas, support them and muster opposition to the German occupation. For Overton there are no specific goals and targets but he is reminded to keep in touch before he leaves. It’s the kind of thing that seems mildly insane, it’s also the kind of situation that sees a particular kind of individual go above and beyond all sensible expectation to deliver results. Overton has a lot to learn and little time to do it in, if his mission is to succeed.

In Eight Hours From England Major John Overton and a handful of soldiers take on the task of supporting the Albanians in their fight to regain control of their country from the German invaders. This incisive and personal novel of a man at war really does give the reader an insight into the sacrifice, danger, fear, bravery and ingenuity of men in the field – a long way from home, a long way from loved ones, behind enemy lines. Quayle conjures up a vivid picture of wartime Albania, so realistic that you can almost feel yourself trekking across the mountains to meet the partisan groups. This is a very down to earth tale of heroism, it’s well written, intelligent and loaded with pathos.

Albania was invaded by Italy in April of 1939 so for them the war came early. King Zog fled to England where he remained throughout the war. Two main resistance groups formed, the Balli Kombetar and the Communists led by Enver Hoxha (the partisans), they fought the Italians until Mussolini’s death in 1943. The Germans took over, gradually, Hoxha’s partisans grew stronger and at the end of the war they had not only shifted the Germans but then managed to avoid being absorbed into the Russian bloc. At the time the novel opens the Germans had control of the towns but the Balli and the partisans controlled the countryside.

The novel opens with Chamberlain’s announcement to the nation that Britain is at war with Germany. John’s relationship with Ann is strained, from the moment they part in 1939 John doesn’t set foot in England again until mid-1943. When he does get back his old mate Harry Matthews offers him a job in the Balkans. John Overton turns it down in favour of a long overdue leave. That is until things with Ann get a bit rocky again so a few days later he’s back asking Matthews if he can reconsider his decision. There’s barely time for a goodbye dinner with Ann before flying out to Cairo, the SOE’s largest overseas HQ. When he reports in they have no record of his assignment, there’s nothing doing in Greece so they settle on Albania. John heads to Bari in Italy for training; parachute, cyphers, signalling etc. Tom Keith has established an entry point on the coast of Albania, he calls it ‘Sea View’, but things are a bit sticky between Keith and the locals, he seems to dislike them nearly as much as the Germans. Initially that’s not Overton’s problem, the plan is to parachute him into the interior, but word arrives that Keith is injured, so Overton is dropped off at Sea View on new year’s eve. Unhappy with the location Overton starts looking for a base away from the coastal strip which is cut off from the rest of the country by mountains, the Germans don’t come this side of the range.

If he’s to affect the war he has to talk to the guerrillas. It takes Overton a couple of days to get to Dukat, a Balli village, the Muslim leaders gather to hear what he has to say by they’re not happy with the plan to take weapons through their territory to the communist partisans. He travels on to the partisan camp, they want the weapons airdropped, they don’t want a truce with Dukat either. John is hopeful of getting them working together against the common enemy, the Germans. And so it begins . . .

Anthony Quayle was a senior officer in the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War and like his counterpart in the novel Lieutenant-Colonel Overton he was sent to Albania in December of 1943. Quayle wrote another Second World War novel based on his experience in Gibraltar, On Such a Night. He was one of the most distinguished British actors of the post war period (Lawrence of Arabia, The Guns of Navarone and, my personal favourite, Ice Cold in Alex). An actor’s job is to act but it must have been strange making romantic war movies when you’ve been through the real dirty messy bloody thing. Clearly Quayle, later knighted, was a talented man. Eight Hours From England is a novel of an aspect of the war that is still little explored.

Paul Burke 4/4

Eight Hours From England by Anthony Quayle
Imperial War Museum 9781912423101 pbk Sep 2019