Monopoli Blues is a book that will stay for me a long time. Non-fiction, it is the true story of how 19 year old Bob Clark was recruited to become an agent with Britain’s top-secret Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War Two, how on a mission he was parachuted into northern Italy, and eventually captured by the enemy.
It is also the story of how Bob fell in love with Marjorie, who at the age of 17 was recruited to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) and sent to Monopoli in Italy to become a radio operator for SOE. It is a touching narrative of how their love developed ‘out of a special friendship forged by the circumstances in which they had found themselves in‘ which involved ‘sitting on the harbour wall, drinking gin and talking for hours into the winter nights.’
Monopoli Blues is so powerful as it poignantly relates about an aspect of World War Two that is not massively well known. Furthermore it is told from the point of view of Bob and Marjorie’s son Tim Clark who went on an emotional journey to discover why his father, just an ordinary young man was recruited by SOE, what actually happened on the mission that led to his capture and his experience as a prisoner of war. It is emotional and at times harrowing, especially when you read what happened to Bob on his 21st birthday while in prison.
After spending six months as a prisoner of war in which neither Marjorie or his family knew if he was alive or dead, Bob returns to his parents house. When Bob’s father opened the door to ‘a tall young man – very thin, bearded, dressed in shabby fatigues‘ he ‘realised only then that it was his son. They stood for a second or two looking at each other and then they shook hands.’
Like many men returned from World War Two, Bob didn’t really talk about his war time experience, yet as his son Tim movingly points out: “in that handshake I recognised the Pop I’d known and loved: warm, unflappable, dependable…there.” As a reader this resonated with me as my Grandpa was also in the war and never really spoke about his experiences. Hence I feel Tim Clark’s further description of his father will powerfully resonate with many people:
Pop’s way of keeping order in his life, the order he had promised my mother and had given to us, his children, was to maintain that even keel, not to rock it even for a second. Talking about his war would most likely have done just that. And so, until the very end, he had chosen not to – to us at any rate.
Monopoli Blues is a moving account of World War Two. It is very detailed with many facts and many people featured. But it is so poignant as it relates a history not often mentioned in accounts of the war; such as the friendliness of the German people towards the prisoners of war, providing them with hot water and water buckets to fill their bottles.
Thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of the Monopoli Blues blog tour. As a right history buff, this really appealed to me. Thank you especially to Tim Clark for sharing with us the unique and moving story of his parents’ war, and to Nick Cook who Tim wrote the book with.
Monopoli Blues was published by Unbound on 13th June 2019. To read the reviews of my fellow book bloggers also taking part in the blog tour, please see below.