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The Spies of Winter: The GCHQ codebreakers who fought the Cold War Hardcover – January 10, 2017
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About the Author
SINCLAIR MCKAY is the bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bletchley Park, The Lost World of Bletchley Park, The Secret Life of Fighter Command and The Secret Listeners for Aurum, as well as histories of Hammer films, the James Bond films and the pastime of rambling. He lives in London.
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In the shattered aftermath of the Second World War the British government renamed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) which during the war years had been located at Bletchley Park the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) which is a signals intelligence organisation now based in a building called “The Doughnut” in the London suburb of Cheltenham. Sinclair McKay’s book tells a fascinating story of the brilliant men and women who worked for the GCHQ in the tension filled years that immediately followed the Second World War and these are the years which witnessed the rapid onset and development of the Cold War. He describes to us very vividly how the GCHQ cryptographers were the privileged few who calmly witnessed the way in which the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin relentlessly provoked Great Britain and the USA to the brink of a third world war using the blockade of Berlin as an instrument of Soviet territorial expansion. If you think that the world came close to a third world war in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 this book emphasizes that it came even closer in the Berlin air lift in 1948-1949. He tells us that, “Winston Churchill was gone, unsentimentally voted out before the war had even ended. His Labour deputy, Clement Attlee, was now prime minister. Ernest Bevin was his pugnacious foreign secretary”. The Soviet victories in the Second World War which had been achieved through huge assistance by their British and American allies had made “Uncle Joe Stalin” extremely popular among the British working class and this had resulted in victory for the Labour Party even before the war had ended. “With no public knowledge of the true nature of Stalin’s rule (famines and the deaths of millions were shrugged off as dark rumour), Soviet Russia and Communism looked to many like the image of the future”, says Sinclair McKay in explaining to us the “favourable view” that the British working class had towards the USSR. However, the GCHQ cryptographers who had constant access to top secret information regarding the Soviet Union and its brutal and merciless territorial advances which was information to which the British working class public never had access had a total distrust and dislike for Joseph Stalin and the Soviets. The British working class had voted a Labour government into power in complete ignorance of the true facts regarding Joseph Stalin and the Soviets. They demonstrated no gratitude whatsoever to Winston Churchill and his Conservative Party for leading Britain and the Soviets to victory and voted them out of office even before the war ended. The cryptographers at the GCHQ were very concerned that the Communists in the Labour Party had convinced the British working class to support the murderous “Uncle Joe Stalin” in preference to their own Winston Churchill who had successfully won the war for them all. Citations from historians such as Tony Judt are used to very good effect when he says that one element prevented the trials of Nazis following the Second World War from being justly carried out was “the presence among the judging authorities of Soviets” and also the highly regarded American diplomat George Kennan when he commented regarding the acceptance of atrocities committed against the German population by Russian soldiers in their invasion of Germany by saying, “The only implication this procedure could convey was, after all, that such crimes were justifiable and forgivable when committed by the leaders of one government, under one set of circumstances, but unjustifiable and unforgivable, and to be punished by death, when committed by another government under another set of circumstances”. Many Nazis were executed at the insistence of the Soviets because of who they were and not because of what they did. Because they were Nazis and anti-Communist. Their crimes were bad enough but were often paled into insignificance by the gravity of the war crimes and atrocities that were committed by the average Russian soldier while invading Germany who was given personal approval by Joseph Stalin himself to rape and murder German women and slaughter German civilians. For their efforts in the “Great Patriotic War” these Russian soldiers were made “Heroes of the Soviet Union” but the Nazis were often executed for committing lesser crimes. The British working class public had very little or no knowledge of this and they voted a Soviet inspired Labour government into power. Clement Attlee and his Labour government had a full knowledge of this through their briefings by the GCHQ and they set about putting into place a government that has often been described as the nearest thing to “pure Communism” and it was a government that accumulated national debts that the British Government is still trying to repay to this very day and lost Great Britain its empire. No wonder the cryptographers at GCHQ looked on in absolute amazement. This book gives an excellent account of all of these events.
Timothy M. Clifton.