One of the many surprises in Paddy Ashdown’s fascinating and fast-moving account of the wartime Resistance in the Bordeaux area is its highly improbable hero. A tiny, unprepossessing figure, frail-looking and only five foot four, Roger Landes was born and brought up in Paris. His parents, who were Jewish, moved to Stamford Hill in 1934. After completing his education in France, Landes joined them in London, finding work as a clerk in the London County Council’s architectural department. When war broke out he joined up, training as a wireless operator; as such he was persuaded to join Section F of the newly founded SOE. Having undergone intensive training – which included learning how to kill or maim one’s opponents – Landes was parachuted into southwest France as a footloose radio operator, liaising with French Resistance groups, keeping in regular touch with SOE’s headquarters on Baker Street and seldom spending more than one night in the same place.
Landes was only in his mid-twenties when he was dropped into France in November 1942. As far as SOE were concerned, the primary aim of the Resistance at this stage of the war was to destroy the U-boat submarine pens