As the EIBF closes its Charlotte Square gates this evening for another year, here's a final post on the festival, but not from me this time - the following has been kindly written for us by Mr. C. who attended an event featuring Sir Tommy MacPherson and Richard Bath entitled A True Hero Tells His Tale. Here are his impressions of that memorable hour spent in the company of a local hero whose exploits are the stuff of legend:
Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, according to Doctor Johnson; but rarely can this feeling of inadequacy have been so amply justified as in the presence of Sir Tommy Macpherson. His autobiography, Behind Enemy Lines, is a wonderful book about an extraordinary man. A boy of 18 on the outbreak of war in 1939, he joined the army and was eventually taken prisoner in North Africa in 1941. After a number of failed escape events he eventually got clean away in 1943, whereupon he was recruited by the Special Operations Executive and dropped in occupied France just before D-Day. Far from being a secret agent, part of his role was to raise morale by being an obvious rallying point for the Resistance, so as he went his merry way blowing up bridges and ambushing the German army he proudly wore his officer's uniform (including, of course, the kilt). On one occasion he learnt that the local garrison was to be relieved, with a gap between the departure of the old troops and the arrival of their replacements. He had two small pennants made, a Union flag and a French tricolor, attached them to the wings of his car and drove into the middle of town, where after destroying the Wehrmacht fuel dump he strolled across the main square to enjoy a glass of wine with the mayor. Later, as the Resistance and the Allies fought to hamper German divisions racing north to attack the Normandy beachhead, he drove unarmed in a Red Cross vehicle through a force of 23,000 nervous and trigger-happy troops to negotiate the surrender of their commanding general.
Apart from Sir Tommy Macpherson's exhilarating, terrifying adventures and great personal charisma - he is the most decorated living British soldier holding three Military Crosses, three Croix de Guerre, a Légion d'Honneur and a papal knighthood - it was salutary to recall that the freedoms we enjoy, including the freedom of expression and debate which the Book Festival embodies, rest on the bravery of a generation which is slipping away like the autumn leaves, of brave young men just out of school, who saw their duty and did not shrink from doing it.