Gordon Lett on Commission My father on the day of his commission

About me

I was born in 1949 to parents who had both experienced the full rigours of World War Two. My father had been a regular soldier before that war, and served in North Africa before being captured at Tobruk. He escaped from a prisoner of war camp in Italy in September 1943, and remained behind the lines fighting with the Italian partisans for eighteen months, based in the high valley of Rossano in Northern Tuscany. He was recruited in 1944, whilst still behind enemy lines, by the Special Operations Executive, Major General Colin Gubbins’ Secret Service. He remained in the Intelligence Community for many years after the war, and was a founder member of Gubbins’ Special Forces Club.

About my mother’s war work, I was never allowed to know very much. She spent the war in heavily blitzed central London, driving secret despatches and secret people from place to place.

My father discouraged me from any thought of a military career [very wisely I think, since I wouldn’t have been much good], and guided me into the law, where I have now fought my battles in the criminal courtroom for over forty years, eventually reaching the rank of Queen’s Counsel. I have prosecuted and defended every type of serious crime, and have sat as a part time judge for over twenty years. One advantage that I have gained from those experiences  is an ability to examine evidence objectively when pursuing my love of history, and to ensure that I never arrive at any conclusion that is not fully justified by the facts.

When my father died in 1989, he left me an extraordinary inheritance amongst the people with whom he lived and fought in Italy. In the eyes of many of the older inhabitants of the Rossano valley and its surrounding villages, my father was a great hero, and many historical doors are open to me as a result that are closed to others. My father’s other gift to me was his personal archive of World War Two documents and photographs.

I married in 1979, and I have four grown up children. I have a home in Rossano, where my family has inherited many of my father’s friends, and in the medieval city of Pontremoli at the foot of the mountains, which my father, together with Bishop Sismondo, saved from total destruction during World War Two..

It was because of the family ties with the area, and my love of history, that I began a number of years ago to research more deeply into the history of what had gone on there between 1943 and 1945. Since I speak passable Italian, I was able interview many of the “originals” of the partisan war.

In 1997, I became the Chairman of the Monte San Martino Trust, a charity set up by ex-Allied prisoners of war who had been on the run in Italy to thank those who had helped them. I was very honoured to be appointed a Commendatore of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 2007 as a result of my work with the Trust. As a part of my job as Chairman, I became involved in the organisation of “Freedom Trails”, re-tracing the steps of the escapers along their routes to freedom. When political difficulties made it impossible for the Trust to continue to walk from Sulmona through the old “Gustav” front line [which ran through Monte Cassino], I began to organise Freedom Trails from Rossano, since my father had masterminded a very successful escape route through the “Gothic” front line, which held up the Allied advance from the summer of 1944 until April 1945. Although I retired as the Trust’s Chairman in 2005, I have continued to re-create escape trails from Rossano virtually every year since then.

memorial
Myself at my father’s monument above Rossano

memorial

Galia Monument
The Operation Galia Monument erected in the Rossano Valley in 2014

Over the years, I have discovered more and more of the history of the area. With the help of the local councils [comunes], it has been possible to put up three memorials to fallen British and American service men in the area. Local Italian support for these projects has always been brilliant.

I have been able to supply information to many whose fathers were prisoners of war in Italy, or who arrived in Rossano with one of the two troops of SAS who dropped in by parachute. I am always very happy to help with these enquiries if I can, and I have regular access to the National Archives in Kew and the Imperial War Museum. Please just send me an email if you think I can help. There is no charge for this – if I can help, I will.  It always a pleasure. My most worthwhile achievement has been to discover for a young Italian friend the identity of her long lost British soldier grandfather, and thereby to bring together his two daughters, half-sisters whom I introduced to each other for the very first time under the clock at Waterloo Station. For over sixty years, neither had known of the other’s existence. There is a book waiting somewhere in that story too.

My father wrote a book about his experiences with the partisans – first in Italian in 1949 [Vallata in Fiamme] and then in English in 1955 [Rossano]. His book has recently been re-published by Frontline Books [see the Books page]. My own first book, SAS in Tuscany, was written as a result of a serious error in the obituary published by a national newspaper of Bob Walker Brown. It is so important, in my view, to record history with the greatest possible accuracy. That said, all historians have to rely to some extent upon accounts of events recorded at the time, and such records themselves cannot always be guaranteed to be accurate.

My historical research has also led me off at a tangent – when researching something quite different, I stumbled across Ian Fleming, the real life M, and the origin of Fleming’s James Bond character. I gathered the evidence together very carefully, and found it compelling. That led me to write my second book: Ian Fleming and SOE’S Operation Postmaster – the top secret story behind 007 and its sequel The Small Scale Raiding Force. These are, in my opinion, the best “Bond” stories yet. They are the true stories that form the “James Bond Prequel.

 
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