A Schoolmaster’s War: Harry Rée, British Agent in the French Resistance by Jonathan Rée (ed) - review by Allan Massie

Allan Massie

A Class Act

A Schoolmaster’s War: Harry Rée, British Agent in the French Resistance


Yale University Press 192pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Harry Rée was a schoolmaster almost all his adult life. He loved teaching but, as for most men of his generation, there was a gap in his career. Born in 1914, he was teaching in south London when Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. While at Cambridge he had signed the Peace Pledge, but what he knew of Nazi Germany had eroded his pacifism. Teaching was a reserved occupation, so he was not liable to be conscripted. Nevertheless, according to his son’s short introduction to this collection of Rée’s war writings and talks, he joined up, first, because he felt that he shouldn’t stay in a safe civilian job while so many of his contemporaries were in the forces and, second (and more interestingly), because he thought that failing to enlist would, in the words of a friend and fellow schoolmaster, ‘distance him from his pupils when the war was over’.

Not suited to regimental life, he was happy to be recruited to the French section of the Special Operations Executive in 1942. As a French speaker, he was deemed suitable to work with the Resistance, though at the time he joined there was very little active resistance in France, except,

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