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Tough life with the Partisans before Reuters

JOHN EARLE - From Nile to Danube: A Wartime Memoir - Mladika - 2010

John  first served with the British army in North Africa during the second world war, but this fascinating book is mainly concerned with the Yugoslav part of his war service.

He was parachuted into Yugoslavia as a liaison officer with the Partisans with the objective of getting to the Danube. He never achieved that aim during the war, but got there after the war as Reuters correspondent in Belgrade.

We take for granted the presence of British officers with the Partisans, but forget the immense suffering they underwent. The greatest burden was hunger followed by fatigue and illness - in John’s case malaria. 

Light relief comes only towards the end of the book when he was joined in recently liberated Dubrovnik by the novelist Evelyn Waugh. Waugh had been stationed with a unit at Partisan HQ for Croatia led by Randolph Churchill, the Prime Minister’s son, and including Lord Birkenhead, who had had Randolph as his fag at Eton. Waugh talked about Randolph to John at length. “Randolph farts, he’s impossible,” Waugh frequently complained to John. Birkenhead had complained to Waugh of Randolph’s habit of eructation.

Later, at a party for local girls in Trieste, John met his future wife. John retired to Trieste after a distinguished career as a Reuter correspondent, culminating in the post of Chief Correspondent in Rome. ■