Churchill’s German Army

Written by Helen Fry
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

Some 10,000 German and Austrian refugees, many of whom were Jews, enlisted in the British army, navy and air force to fight their Nazi persecutors.

Treated suspiciously at first and interned, some in Australia, “the King’s most loyal enemy aliens” went on to serve with distinction in all the theatres of the Second World War. Despite this shaky start, many of the people documented in this book mention how they felt British even though most would not receive British nationality until 1947. In fact, they usually changed their names, for example, Friedrich Berliner to Michael O’Hara, as they were proud to fight for Britain.

And fight they did, perhaps most effectively as SOE operatives behind the German lines. Their bravery was incredible, considering that they would have been shot as traitors if captured by the Germans. Many also performed important tasks as interpreters in Germany at the end of the war, with some coming face to face with the men responsible for the deaths of their close relatives in concentration camps.

Helen Fry has performed a real service in documenting the stories of these amazing men and women, many of whom had up to now been reticent to speak about their experiences.

As the number of stories is legion, inevitably, individual stories are condensed and there is little room for contextualizing their service. What Churchill’s German Army does do however is open a door to a fascinating story of the Second World War for historians and historical novelists alike to explore more fully.