SOE trek in Albania with Dr Rod Bailey

Living History

Hi all – this is my first post here!

I’m organising a trek in Albania for this September, with Dr Roderick Bailey, author of The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle. Don’t know if you’ve read it but it’s an excellent history of SOE in, er, Albania.

One chapter deals with a mission dropped in over the winter of 43/44 – SPILLWAY. It was led by Brig EF ‘Trotsky’ Davies, and went badly wrong. Trotksy got shot up and ended the war in Colditz. His second-in-command, Lt Col Arthur Nicholls, managed to escape with another officer, Alan Hare, but died a month after. Nicholls kept a diary, and we’re going to be following the route outlined in that.

Anyway, I’ve cut-and-pasted some more info below. I’ll be scouting the route myself over the summer, and the trek will take place over a week in the latter part of September, exact dates TBC depending on Rod’s schedule. Costs I’m afraid are still TBC too – it’s a really remote area so will get a grip on this over the next few weeks.

Anyway, here’s some bumpf and hope some of you are interested. Be aware though it’s going to be tough on the leg muscles!

Endurance Vile in Albania, with Dr Roderick Bailey


This September Dr Roderick Bailey, official historian of the Special Operations Executive’s war on Fascist Italy, and author of the acclaimed The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle, will lead the inaugural Endurance Vile Trail* across the mountains of Albania.

The trail will follow in the footsteps of the ill-fated Special Operations Executive SPILLWAY mission of October 1943 – January 1944. Commanded by Brigadier EF ‘Trotsky’ Davies, the mission was intended to support the partisan guerrillas led by Albania’s future dictator, Enver Hoxha, against the occupying Germans. Instead, it found itself being chased across some of Albania’s toughest terrain before being cornered by the enemy in a remote sheepfold. Brigadier Davies himself was shot through the liver and heel, and ended the war in Colditz, after a brief stay in the notorious Mauthausen concentration camp.

Only two British officers avoided capture, after marching up an exposed hillside under heavy fire. One of these, Lt Col Arthur Nicholls, kept a diary of his experiences (against regulations, and rediscovered by Roderick in the course of his research). The Endurance Vile Trail will trace the route outlined in Nicholls’ diary, across Albania’s dramatic and unspoiled Martanesh and Mati regions.

Sadly Nicholls’ escape was short-lived. His feet were so badly frostbitten that gangrene had already set in. He died on 11 February 1944, after handing his diary to the officer who escaped with him, Major Alan Hare (a future chairman of the Financial Times). Nicholls remains the only member of the Coldstream Guards to have been awarded the George Cross.

Exact dates and prices are TBC, but the week-long trek will take place in the second half of September. For more information, email Edward Reeves at or check out the blog There is also a Facebook page and Twitter feed @SOE_Trails

*The name ‘Endurance Vile’ comes from Brig Davies himself, who coined the phrase to describe the mission’s ordeal.

Sample entry from Lt Col Arthur Nicholls’ diary, today held by Imperial War Museum London –

Saturday 8 Jan 1944

1430 E.F.D. [Brig Davies] standing outside the shed is fired upon from the high ground behind us. We decide to get out quick, making for the high ground. The small column sets off in deep snow and brilliant sunshine, a wonderful sitting target. Agonisingly slow progress is made and no effective reply can be made… Heavy and very effective and accurate rifle fire… E.F.D. hit in quick succession twice… In accordance with standing instructions A.N. and A.H. [Arthur Nicholls and Alan Hare] push on and in spite of presenting the most wonderful targets, miraculously escape. Are joined by a few Partisans – deciding to try and capture… and hold some high ground, are dispersed by heavy and accurate rifle fire at short range. All run for cover of the woods – A.N. and A.H. together. There they lie up until dusk, when they set out to make a forced compass march across the mountains to MARTANESH… After appalling experiences in snow drifts, freezing streams etc arrive at 0600 hours, having been continuously on the march since 1700 hrs 8 Jan.

About Dr Roderick Bailey

Roderick is that rare creature – an academic with first-hand experience of conflict (he saw active service with the British Army in Afghanistan, where he was awarded a Queen’s Commendation). A graduate of Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities, he is now a Research Associate at London’s Imperial War Museum and a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at Oxford University, and in 2012 was appointed by the Prime Minister to write the official history of SOE’s war on Mussolini’s Italy.

Roderick’s 2008 history of SOE in Albania, The Wildest Province, was adapted from his PHD and widely praised (see below). His other publications include three best-selling books, on D-Day, the Victoria Cross and clandestine warfare, and he reviews books for the Times Literary Supplement and the Literary Review, and has written for The Times, The Guardian, The Scotsman and The Independent.

Praise for The Wildest Province

‘Roderick Bailey’s exemplary history… Bailey’s accomplished account makes grim reading.’ — Sunday Times

‘What makes Bailey’s book so readable is not only his grasp of strategy but his hold on tactics and personalities…’ — Literary Review

‘Beautifully written and impeccably researched… a compelling work and by far the most comprehensive yet undertaken on the subject…’ — The Times

‘A gripping account of two wars…it is hard to imagine the task being done better than this’ — Sunday Telegraph

‘Skilful… a scholarly and readable story almost worthy of Buchan himself’ — BBC History Magazine

‘This powerful story.. good to see these courageous British agents given another life in the pages of this work.’ — Daily Mail

‘[An] admirable work of erudition’ — Scotland on Sunday

‘Bailey has made skilful use of letters, interviews and diaries…a scholarly and readable story almost worthy of Buchan himself’ — BBC History Magazine

Image from National Archives, HS 5 / 118

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