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Summary

'This was a secret war whose battles were lost or won unknown to the public.... No such warfare had ever been waged by mortal men.' (Winston Churchill)

Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, a country house called The Firs in Buckinghamshire was requisitioned by the War Office. Sentries were posted at the entrance gates, and barbed wire was strung around the perimeter fence. To local villagers it looked like a prison camp. But the truth was far more sinister. This rambling Edwardian mansion had become home to an eccentric band of scientists, inventors and bluestockings. Their task was to build devastating new weaponry that could be used against the Nazis.

Led by the gung-ho Millis Jefferis, the men and women who worked at Churchill's Toyshop, as it became known, devised many of the key weapons of the Second World War. Their prototype limpet mine made possible the Cockleshell Raid on Bordeaux Harbour. Churchill said that this one raid alone shortened the war by six months. Next they pioneered the water bomb that closed the Rhine to German shipping.

Although the team at Churchill's Toyshop proved extraordinarily adept, they were not working alone. Other country houses were also requisitioned and handed over to the specialists. Some focused on developing new weapons; some planned sabotage missions in occupied Europe; some became training schools for agents. But all were working towards a common goal: the destruction of the Nazi war machine. Collectively they were known as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

©2016 Giles Milton (P)2016 John Murray Press

What members say

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Humbling and enthralling

I never tire of hearing tales of sacrifice and commitment made by those in WWII that allow us the freedom to lead the lives we lead today. These tales are made all the more fascinating when you learn of how those selfless acts of bravery were supported by a small army of crackpots and geniuses who dared stand by their convictions and in the face of conventional thinking.

This book covers the people and the operations undertaken in perfect detail. The narration is well suited and the book an easy listen. One of the best audible books I've bought.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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A truly incredible story.

Takes a short while to get going but it takes hold and becomes gripping to the end. I knew so many of the stories contained within but never knew how they were linked to so few people. Story superbly written and fabulously narrated. A top notch purchase.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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exhilarating

Should be in every school and public library in the country.
Giles Milton has done an outstanding job.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A great story!

An interesting tale about the secret heroes of World War 2 and their many great but little known exploits.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Very interesting - lead in too long and indulgent

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Provides an interesting context for unusual weapons and their use.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare?

Limpet mine developed with parts from Woolworths!

What does Jonathan Keeble bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Good depth of voices

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Almost gave up with the irritatingly long introduction and overly detailed background to some of the participants.

Any additional comments?

Worth the wait....brilliant after about 25% of the way in.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent book written like a novel

Interesting book, but in parts it became too much like a novel and the accents put on did get annoying in parts. That said I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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one of my favorites, simply fantastic

This is an incredible work of history and one of the most compelling audio books i have ever listened to. Fantastically well researched, delightfully written, and superbly narrated. Absolutely you must listen

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Boys own stuff

When the chips were down they did as the British always do innovate adapt and surprise showing what a few well motivated men can turn the cause of an entire nation .

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Absolutely staggering

A complete picture of the Second World War would be a disservice without this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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fantastic

Absolutely fantastic well paced and very interesting. A must for any fan of military history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary
  • 22-03-18

I'm shocked and awed

Where does The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is an extraordinary book, wonderfully written, and in spite of the highly serious content, it is not solemn. Being English and in my 60s, I thought I knew a lot about Britain in the early years of the Second World War - but I had not known about these skilled, focused and courageous men and women who were such unsung British heroes. I can't help wondering what people today would have been able, qualified and willing to do in such circumstances.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

I had not known the details of what Hitler's plan for Britain was before the intended invasion in July 1940. I was shocked. It included the destruction of Britain's Jewish population and the internment of all Englishmen between the ages 18 and 45 - and indeed was ferocious in its desire to punish Britain for standing up to the Nazis.

Have you listened to any of Jonathan Keeble’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I hadn't - but he is a terrific narrator, able to use a range of believable accents and tones (especially Churchill) to bring each character and situation to life.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Descriptions of the pain and cruelty of all-out warfare. What Giles Milton manages to do is get beyond one's natural reluctance to justify cruelty in any circumstances whatsoever, and seriously consider the stark reality of "kill or be killed".

In spite of this, one is moved by the undeserved fate of doomed soldiers in all armies who are convinced that they are doing their duty.

But the men and women described here, who had the creative genius to provide what was needed in a war they didn't want, to lead from the front and inspire ordinary people, are shown to be worthy of our highest admiration and gratitude.

Any additional comments?

The book shines a light on a different time when ordinary people showed extraordinary qualities - only 78 years ago. It holds a mirror up to our own age. It is also very easy to listen to. A terrific book.