Magazine article The Spectator

From Caviar to Cold Tripe

Magazine article The Spectator

From Caviar to Cold Tripe

Article excerpt

From caviar to cold tripe

FOREIGN FIELDS by Peter Wilkinson

B. Tauris, L19.95, pp. 250

Peter Wilkinson was at school with Philip Toynbee. Unlike Lord Lambton, he did not knock him down for alleged irregularities, either in the Berkeley Buttery at lunchtime or in the Ritz bar after dark. Similarly, few people, if any, have knocked down Wilkinson.

The latter saw the war coming and, despite Celine, Remarque, Graves and Sassoon, in 1935 joined `The Shining Seventh', the Royal Fusiliers. He spent little time on regimental duties; instead he learned German and Czech. Joining military intelligence under Gerald Templer, later Field Marshal, he proceeded to Prague where he hunted, drank, skied and reported Hitler's destruction of the Czech Republic. On return to England, he was invited by Colonel Colin Gubbins to join MI(R), later Special Operations Executive (SOE), charged with guerrilla warfare: Gubbins' luncheon included fraises du bois and Montrachet. There seemed no reason to refuse.

In August 1939, he left for Warsaw under Gubbins in a military mission, staging in Bucharest where wild strawberries were again available, with bortsch, sturgeon and caviar. The wine at Cernauti was delicious, as was a case of hock which Wilkinson liberated in Warsaw. The Germans having invaded, the British mission under one-eyed General Carton De Wiart followed the Polish general staff in their flight from German and Russian assault. After the Polish surrender, General Carton - to become British representative with Chiang Kai Shek - described his new Romanian hosts as `pimps, pederasts and violinists, and bloody few are violinists'.

The war office could not initially credit the General's despatch on Rundstedt's armoured encirclement of the Polish army, with close air support, as relevant to the Allies' forthcoming confrontation in France.

Wilkinson, grotesquely equipped with identity card in an envelope which he was enjoined to show to no one, then served in Gubbins' Balkan sections in collaboration with SIS. (He may be identified - absolutely not as Widmerpool - as one of the cast of the period in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time). After helping Sikorski to evacuate 30,000 Polish troops from France, he and Peter Fleming formed the British guerrilla movement (see the author's Gubbins and SOE) to operate in the UK after a German invasion. When that requirement ended, he travelled to Cairo round the Cape to reopen the Polish and Czech lines, but was sidetracked to Crete. …

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