A groundbreaking account of how Britain became the base of operations for the exiled leaders of Europe in their desperate struggle to reclaim their continent from Hitler, from the New York Times bestselling author of Citizens of London and Those Angry Days When the Nazi blitzkrieg rolled over continental Europe in the early days of World War II, the city of London became a refuge for the governments and armed forces of six occupied nations who escaped there to continue the fight. So, too, did General Charles de Gaulle, the self-appointed representative of free France. As the only European democracy still holding out against Hitler, Britain became known to occupied countries as "Last Hope Island." Getting there, one young emigr declared, was "like getting to heaven." In this epic, character-driven narrative, acclaimed historian Lynne Olson takes us back to those perilous days when the British and their European guests joined forces to combat the mightiest military force in history. Here we meet the courageous King Haakon of Norway, whose distinctive "H7" monogram became a symbol of his country's resistance to Nazi rule, and his fiery Dutch counterpart, Queen Wilhelmina, whose antifascist radio broadcasts rallied the spirits of her defeated people. Here, too, is the Earl of Suffolk, a swashbuckling British aristocrat whose rescue of two nuclear physicists from France helped make the Manhattan Project possible. Last Hope Island also recounts some of the Europeans' heretofore unsung exploits that helped tilt the balance against the Axis: the crucial efforts of Polish pilots during the Battle of Britain; the vital role played by French and Polish code breakers in cracking the Germans' reputedly indecipherable Enigma code; and the flood of top-secret intelligence about German operations--gathered by spies throughout occupied Europe--that helped ensure the success of the 1944 Allied invasion. A fascinating companion to Citizens of London, Olson's bestselling chronicle of the Anglo-American alliance, Last Hope Island recalls with vivid humanity that brief moment in time when the peoples of Europe stood together in their effort to roll back the tide of conquest and restore order to a broken continent. Praise for Last Hope Island "In Last Hope Island Lynne Olson] argues an arresting new thesis: that the people of occupied Europe and the expatriate leaders did far more for their own liberation than historians and the public alike recognize. . . . The scale of the organization she describes is breathtaking."--The New York Times Book Review "Last Hope Island is a book to be welcomed, both for the past it recovers and also, quite simply, for being such a pleasant tome to read."--The Washington Post " A] pointed volume . . . Olson] tells a great story and has a fine eye for character."--The Boston Globe
- ISBN-13: 9780812997354
- ISBN-10: 0812997352
- Publisher: American Book Company
- Publish Date: January 2019
Facing a common enemy
BookPage Top Pick in Nonfiction, May 2017
In the early hours of April 9, 1940, King Haakon VII of Norway was awakened by an aide shouting, “Majesty, we are at war!” The frantic and desperate flight of the Norwegian king and his government into snow-clad mountains and eventually to London is just one of the spellbinding stories in Lynne Olson’s masterful account of England in World War II, Last Hope Island.
Olson, a former White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, has written three previous books about World War II, and she brings both a journalist’s eye and a novelist’s command of character and setting to this subject. Here, in addition to King Haakon, she brings to life the indomitable Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who kept her people’s spirits up through her energetic BBC broadcasts. Olson details the contributions of Polish pilots to the RAF and shows how courageous, ordinary Europeans participated in resistance efforts and in secret escape networks to guide downed pilots back to England. Olson does not shy away from a sharp critique of England’s SOE, the Special Operations Executive, a rival organization to MI6. Inept SOE officials failed to follow their own security protocols, even after radio operators tried desperately to communicate that their networks had been compromised. In a particular case in the Netherlands, this resulted in the tragic death of agents who were nabbed by the Germans immediately upon parachuting into a dark field.
For American readers inclined to begin their World War II reading after U.S. entry into the conflict, Last Hope Island opens a fascinating trove of stories, characters and facts. The final chapters deal with postwar Europe. In this way, Olson’s book, 10 years in the making, not only helps illuminate the past but also serves as an insightful backdrop for today’s discussion of the future of 21st-century European alliances.
This article was originally published in the May 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.