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This article explores the official motivation behind the authorization in 1960 of research into the activities of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War by M. R. D. Foot, leading to the publication of SOE in France in 1966. The work has traditionally been viewed as the official response to critical investigative works on SOE published during the 1950s, combined with the vocal campaign of Dame Irene Ward, who made several calls in the House of Commons for an official account of SOE to be published. Material now available at the Public Record Office reveals that these were not the sole considerations in official minds, nor the most significant, concerning the possibility of publishing such a work. The foreign office was particularly concerned that Britain's contribution to wartime resistance in Europe, exemplified by SOE, was being overshadowed by both soviet propoganda, emphasizing the communist contribution to resistance, and the publicity being given to SOE's American counterpart, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The ‘campaign’ of Dame Irene Ward, supported by the negative slant given to SOE in the books of Jean Overton Fuller and Elizabeth Nicholas, unknowingly gave support to a frame of mind that was already in existence in favour of an unofficial account of SOE activity, albeit for different reasons.

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I would like to express my thanks to Dr Philip Murphy, for reading early drafts of this article and offering valuable advice. I am also grateful to Professor M. R. D. Foot for his comments. Thanks are also due to Helen Langley at the Bodleian Library for allowing access to the papers of Dame Irene Ward while they were being catalogued, and to Mr David J. Greenslade for permission to quote from them.
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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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