CASTAWAYS IN QUESTION – A STORY OF BRITISH NAVAL INTERROGATION FROM WW1 TO DENAZIFICATION

Reviewed by: CDR BRIAN TRIM

This is Derek Nudd’s second book on the British naval interrogation system and, not having read the first, it is difficult to judge how the books might complement each other. Taking this book on its own, I would summarise it as a quick, largely enjoyable read. I have an abiding interest in the Battle of the Atlantic, and this presents an interesting new facet of that struggle. While the effort to crack Enigma is now very well-known and recognised as a significant factor in the Allies’ victory, this book examines the parallel strand of intelligence arising from skilled interrogation of prisoners. The two efforts were carefully compartmented from each other during the war and, while Bletchley has risen to prominence, few would recognize the significance of Trent Park or Latimer House as former interrogation centres. There is certainly a story worth telling – and reading – in this.

That said, I feel the book would have benefited from a further round of editing. The narrative in the first few chapters seems to hiccough along before finally breaking into stride with the start of the Second World War. The conclusion and afterword would have been better framed as introductory chapters, setting the subsequent stories into a broader context. The book is essentially structured around events, yet it feels as though the author might have preferred to write the book around the people. The resulting compromise is a little awkward, as characters pop up at intervals, with biographical details that should enrich the narrative, but in fact are more like diverting asides. In the same vein, either the publisher or the author has sought to ‘hook’ the reader around questions of ethics and legality – “did we use torture?” I am not convinced this approach works – the question is answered succinctly in the conclusion and doesn’t quite form the ‘golden thread’ promised in the blurb.

Despite all this, it is an interesting read and I rather enjoyed it. Readers with an interest in the genesis of naval intelligence and/or the Battle of the Atlantic would find some gems in this book. I am not convinced it would have a broader appeal. The style is simply not smooth enough to hold an entirely uninitiated reader. There would be benefit in having it available to support research at JSCSC and perhaps at BRNC.