I first read ‘’They Have Their Exits’’ in the late 1970s when I was about 11. It was an old yellowing , fragile 1950s paperback copy bought cheaply from the church jumble sale.
The man himself was still alive then , although as a young boy I didn’t really know who he was. It was a shock a few months later to hear on the TV news about his murder in a car-bomb attack.
In recent years I kept meaning to re-read the book which surely has to be one of the most famous of all WW2 escape stories .
When Pen & Sword recently asked if we’d like to review a new edition for the forum I readily jumped at the chance.
The latest paperback edition arrived and am happy to say it up to the usual high production standards of Pen & Sword. The book is a larger format than the old version I read years ago with crisp clear white pages with a clear readable text that my Mum, who is in her late 70s ,said was very easy to read.
All the maps, diagrams & photographs have reproduced well.
I’m sure with a book this famous that has been around so long most people are aware of Airey Neave’s story.
As an officer in a Searchlight unit he is involved in the fighting at Calais in 1940 , is wounded and captured.
After an unsuccessful escape attempt he is sent to Colditz where he tries again to escape, dressed as a German soldier. That fails but he tries yet again , this time with a Dutch companion , both dressed as German officers and are successful.
Then disguised as Dutch workmen travel across German into Switzerland .
From there in company with a British officer he travels through Vichy France into Fascist Spain to Gibralter and finally back to the UK.
Back in Britain he is recruited into MI9 to organise the return of other evaders . Returning to France in July 1944 he is involved in the rescue of Allied airmen in Normandy and later in helping to rescue Airborne troops after the fighting at Arnhem.
After the war he served with the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal where he comes into direct contact with leading members of the Nazi hierarchy in their cells.
He often refers to his time as a PoW when describing this reversal of roles.
He revisits places he had last seen as a PoW in 1940 and describes his thoughts and feelings at returning to them.
His insight into life in wartime Germany as he travels through that country in disguise makes for very interesting reading . It’s quite amazing he and his Dutch companion Tony Luteyn never got caught.
He also pays tribute to the many anonymous people who aided him and his fellow escapers from Switzerland through Vichy France to Spain. Putting their lives at risk to help the Allied escapers on their way to freedom. Some had patriotic reasons for helping, others because their families were involved , some purely for the financial gain .
Even after all those trials and tribulations of escaping and evading successfully , for many the risks were not over. Many escaped so they could continue the fight and not sit the war out in a PoW camp. Airey Neave lists many names of escapers who were killed in later fighting . Including the officer who travelled from Switzerland all the way back to the UK with him , Hugh Woollatt. He was killed in Normandy in July 1944.
I can find only one minor error in the book , there wouldn’t have been an ‘‘old Crusader’’ (page 9) tank in the fighting at Calais in 1940. That’s just be being a tank-nerd.
All in all an excellent read of one of the classic stories to come from WW2.
According to the back cover all the royalties from this edition are being donated to ‘The Airey Neave Trust’ so that’s an even better reason to buy a copy.