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Unfortunately, since the Germans had equal access to the classics--"Reference books," Marks quips, "are jackboots when used by cryptographers"--Marks thought agents should write their own poems (or use his) instead, several of which are cheerily obscene. After all, no son or daughter of the Fatherland could ever know the rest of a verse that began "Is de Gaulle's prick / Twelve inches thick," and continued on in a similar, shall we say, vein. But Marks soon felt that original doggerel was just as dangerous, since even slight misspellings could render messages indecipherable and risk agents' lives. His first solution? WOKs (worked-out keys) printed on silk. An operative would use one key, send the message, and immediately tear off the strip. Marks had a hard time proving that swaths of silk would save his people from swallowing their "optional extra," a cyanide pill. His efforts were dead serious, but often landed him in comic terrain.
In one of the book's great set pieces, Marks visits Colonel Wills--surely the model for Ian Fleming's Q--in order to sort out the best ways to print his code keys. Before solving this minor problem (invisible ink!), Wills showed Marks several new projects--one of which involves an exotic array of dung, courtesy of the London Zoo. This gifted gadgetmeister planned to model life-sized reproductions of these droppings and pack them with explosives, personalized for all parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. "Once trodden on or driven over (hopefully by the enemy) the whole lot would go off with a series of explosions even more violent than the ones which had produced it," Marks explains.
Despite such larky sentences and sections, the author never loses sight of the importance of his vocation, and Between Silk and Cyanide is as elegiac as it is engaging. Marks knows when to cut the laugh track, particularly as his book becomes a despairing record of agents blown--lost to torture, prison, the camps, and execution. Readers will never forget the valor of Violette Szabo, Noor Inayat Kahn, and the White Rabbit himself, Flight Lieutenant Yeo-Thomas. Poem-cracking, as Marks again and again makes clear, was far more than a parlor game. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Picked this one up while looking for another book, and was very glad! With all the WWII books out there, there seem to be few stories left to tell. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Yuma Lake
Marks accomplishes to write in a light, often funny way about quite technical matters without leaving the very human story of his time at SOE aside. Read morePublished 1 month ago by S. S. Wencke
Having read a number of books on code breaking I had, at times, wondered what the code makers were doing to thwart code breaking. Read morePublished 1 month ago by S. P. Sheehy
Interesting story well told. An individualist growing up in wartime. Sad, funny, heartwarming. And I loved the poetry.Published 2 months ago by john Pearce
This is an extremely interesting read from Leo Marks that provides great incites into the secret chapter of WW2, with descriptions of characters playing the leading roles at... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Nick Raffan
Provides an extremely well written account of the war fought behind the scene's of codemakers and very brave agents of SOE. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Gareth
Part memoir, part tabloid expose, this book was both engaging and bothersome. This reader was, by turns quite taken with the story, only to be bored to tears with some of the... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Cookieface