They Have Their Exits, Airey Neave

They Have Their Exits, Airey Neave

Airey Neave is perhaps best remembered now as a victim of an Irish Republican atrocity, but long before that he had a dramatic wartime career. He was captured during the disasterous campaign of 1940, managed to escape from Colditz by walking out dressed as a German officer, reached Switzerland and finally Gibraltar, worked with MI9 and took part in the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials.

The main focus of the book is on Neave's time in German captivity, his various escape attempts and the long and dangerous journey that took him from Colditz to Switzerland and then across Vichy France to Spain and finally Gibraltar. After returning to Britain Neave ended up working for MI9, helping support Allied escapers and evaders across Occupied Europe, and at the end of the war liaised with the German accused at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials. He briefly alludes to his time with MI9 here (presumably much of his work there was still secret in 1953, and he waited until 1969 to write an account of that time, Saturday at M.I.9), although there is an interesting section on the attempts to rescue survivors of Operation Market Garden. The war crimes trials get a more prominent role, serving as the introduction and conclusion, and providing an excellent framework for Neave's thoughts on captivity, escape and the nature of the Nazi regime.

This is a far more rounded account of the POW experience than many similar works, which often focus entirely on the escape from the camp and report the success or failure of the 'home run' in very little detail. Here we follow Neave from his original capture into his first camp, with all of the changes of mood that accompanied the trip, examine life in the camps and how Colditz differed from the standard camps, before moving on to his daring escape from the castle (also featured heavily in the Colditz Story). Neave then provides a lengthy and gripping account of his trip home - first through enemy territory from Colditz to the Swiss border, a safe period in Switzerland, followed by the nerve-racking trip through Vichy France and across the Pyrenees. The final barrier was Franco's Spain, before safety was finally reached at Gibraltar. Neave's escape came early in the war, and so the escape routes were not as sophisticated as later in the war. Neave gives a good idea of the bravery of the French civilians who helped the escapers and the massive risks they were taking.

This is one of the best escape memoirs to emerge from the Second World War, combining the adventure story of most with a deeper examination of the mental impact of captivity and escape, and the stresses and risks all the way along the escape routes.

Chapters - untitled

Author: Airey Neave
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 192
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 1953 original

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