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Welcome to my author’s website. This is where I put aside the wig and gown that I use as a Queen’s Counsel practising in England and Wales, and turn to my other passions, history writing and mountain walking.

This website is designed to tell you about my books, which deal with World War Two history and a beautiful high mountain valley in Northern Tuscany, Italy, called Rossano. It was there that my father found himself at the beginning of October 1943, having escaped from a prisoner of war camp nearby at Veano. He stayed in the valley, behind enemy lines, for eighteen months, and lived and fought with the Italian partisans against their German and Fascist oppressors. A real sense of history remains in the area, and it is still possible to meet with people who have the clearest recollection of the war years. It is also possible to retrace the old mule trails that were almost always the only means of travel between one village and the next, or one valley and the next.

Rossano in Tuscany - mapMy historical researches started in the valley of Rossano, from which my first book SAS in Tuscany resulted, but they have now led me far and wide – to West Africa, North Africa, Northern Russia, France, Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Burma, Malaya and the Channel Islands. Some I have been able to visit myself, for others I have had to rely on the accounts of those whose experiences I have written about. By accident, I found myself in the realms of Ian Fleming and James Bond. Having discovered that there was a real M, and that Ian Fleming worked with him at one time, I could not resist pursuing that line of research. The result was two more books, Ian Fleming and SOE’s Operation Postmaster and The Small Scale Raiding Force, telling the story of the team of commando secret agents which provided the foundation for Ian Fleming’s Bond stories. They are the James Bond prequel.

My attention turned next to the extraordinary story of the Italian Prisoner of War Camp No.21 at Chieti, which my father had shared with England cricketers Bill Bowes and Freddie Brown, and with many other interesting characters. The result was my fourth book: An Extraordinary Italian Imprisonment.

My fifth book, to be published in May 2016, is entitled: “SOE’s Mastermind – an authorised biography of Major General Sir Colin Gubbins.” It is a biography of Colin Gubbins, who I met a number of times when I was young, and who was the original “M”, now of James Bond fame. Gubbins had a full and very interesting career before taking over the Special Operations Executive in World War Two, and masterminding its activities.

For those who are interested, I also now give a series talks to historical societies, schools and other interested groups on the subjects about which I have written.

The other thing that this website will tell you about are the “Freedom Trails” that lead from the Rossano valley across the old German front line. You will see reports of walks that we have done on the Trail page.

News 

22 February 2016 - my apologies to all: my next book: "SOE’s Mastermind - an authorised biography of Major General Sir Colin Gubbins KCVO, DSO, MC," will not now be published until July 2106. Not my fault, a delay at the publishers.

2016 Rossano Freedom Trail: This is in the planning stages, and will take place in the week 5-10 September 2106, embracing a celebration of the Italian Armistice on 8th September. It will be a walk for all abilities, and will run over three or four days. Precise details will follow, but anyobne who would like to come please get in touch through this website.

I am expecting several walking groups out this year, although the hostel in Rossano is now officially closed, since I want to make it more family friendly and better suited to my grandchildren, both of whom arrived into the world last September. The house will reduce the number of beds available from 26 to 14, so smaller parties will still be welcome. With sleeping mats, of course many more can be accomodated.

BAR ADOLFO CLOSES - very sad news - the Bar Adolfo, a mainstay for so many of us over the years in Rossano, officially closed in November 2015. The Rossi family, Gino, Marisa and Christina, felt that they could no longer make a decent profit from their excellent restaurant and bar. Very sadly, it was the last commercial premises in the Rossano valley, and now there are none. When I first became a regular visitor in 1995, there were several bars in the valley, two restaurants, a small hotel, a shop and a post office. Now there is nothing except a weekend bar at the canonica, and the mobile shops that visit the valley each week. How very sad. The de-population of the mountain communities continues apace.

The plan for a 2015 Rossano Freedom Trail was originally to attempt the Galia ex-filtration trail in early July. However, the dates clashed with the CAI annual weekend in the Alps, and in any event the weather was extreemely hot. We compromised by walking one day in the marble mountains, and two days locally from Rossano. In the heat, that was quite enough. Young Gus, a new member of our walking party, rested on day three, having suffered from sore paws in the marble mountains.

 

The 2014 Rossano Freedom Trail was a very happy event. It was over four days from Pontremoli to Levanto, and we did it at the beginning of July - happily the weather was kind to us. The second day of the trail found us in Rossano. Following discussions over a number of years about a possible monument to those who died when a Special Forces supply plane crashed on 30 December 1944, the Comune of Zeri very generously erected a monument to the seven who died [five US aicrew and two UK loaders] and to Operation Galia, in the valley of Rossano. Following consultation, the monument was built just opposite my house. It includes the well known photograph of the Galia SAS Troop before they took off to parachute into Rossano. A ceremony to inaugurate the monument took place as a part of our trail on the morning of 3rd July. The British Embassy was represented, and wreaths were laid on behalf of various parties, including the SAS Regimental Association and the Monte San Martino Trust. A full account of the Trail, and of the ceremony to inaugurate the monument can be found on the Ciao Lunigiana website [thank you Sheila!]. Needless to say, as promised we were well looked after in Sero.

How very sad - my friend Alberto Siboldi has died. May he rest in peace. He was the same age as me. When I went to his village of Sero to convey my condolences, I was told that I need not fear for the future of the trails. "When I lost a friend or helper, another would always step into his place." What wonderful people.

 

 The September 2012 Freedom Trail went successfully, and the BBC [Edward Stourton and Phil Pegum] proved very popular with all the locals that we met along the way. The weather was threatening from time to time, but by and large we were very lucky. We had a hard core group of nine walkers, and Edward and Phil walked every step of the way. Day One was a long climb from Pontremoli up to the Rossano Valley, crossing over the famous Cavazana Gordana bridge along the way, and reaching the monument at Pradinalara at our highest point of 3,300 feet. We then had a delightful march around the rim of the Rossano valley in the sunshine before descending into the valley itself. We laid wreaths at the monument at Pradanilara, and dined happily in the evening at the Bar Adolfo. My particular thanks to Emmanuele Fenucci, our guide and the President of the local branch of CAI. We all spent the night at my house in Chiesa.

Day Two was a march out of the valley up to the Alta Via, the old road from France into Italy, and then across to the village of Sero, a well know partisan base. Antonio Deluchi was our guide, and our thanks go to him for taking us up by an old and rather exciting route! Thereafter, I acted as guide...and at least we ended up in the right place eventually. My very sincere thanks go to my good friend Alberto Siboldi for cooking, wining and dining us so well in Sero, and for providing breakfast next morning. We laid a wreath at the monument in Sero, and enjoyed a real "partisan style" night in the loft of an old church building, sleeping on mattresses.

Day Three took us down the old partisan trail to Brugnato, but thereafter, we were frustrated by the damage done on the 25th October last year to the walking trails. We decamped to the Castle of Calice al Cornoviglio, where we had lunch, We then travelled by vehicles to Levanto. We were entertained by the Massola family, and had the delight of being shown the secret room, hidden behind a painting, where the Massola family sheltered escaped prisoners and partisans during the war. A ceremony in the town square followed, courtesy of the Mayor of Levanto, and then we dined in style, in company with many friends including the Massolas, the Blasi Fogliettis and Major General Dany Bucchioni.

So soon after the 2012 Olympics, we were all familiar with the term PB, but for us it meant "Personal Battles", many of which were fought and won along the way. Well done everybody.

On the next two days, we held ceremonies and laid wreaths at the monuments to SAS soldiers who were murdered in the area in the autumn 1943 at La Cisa and Ponzano Magra.

My very sincere thanks go to Omar Bucchioni, who worked tirelessly as ever as Boss of the Ground Crew, and to the ever energetic Dr Fred McGlade.  Recordings of the two Radio 4 "Italian Freedom Trail" programmes are available on BBC iplayer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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