In the Shadows of War: An American Pilot's Odyssey Through Occupied France and the Camps of Nazi Germany


A “masterful example of nonfiction brought to life”* —the harrowing account of an aviator’s World War II journey and the two people who helped him along the way

In a small village in France during the fateful summer of 1944, three disparate lives converged in an unlikely secret alliance. Just after D-Day, Colette Florin hid downed American bomber pilot Roy Allen in her rooms above the tiny girls’ school where she taught. While concealing him, she was drawn deeper into the ...

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A “masterful example of nonfiction brought to life”* —the harrowing account of an aviator’s World War II journey and the two people who helped him along the way

In a small village in France during the fateful summer of 1944, three disparate lives converged in an unlikely secret alliance. Just after D-Day, Colette Florin hid downed American bomber pilot Roy Allen in her rooms above the tiny girls’ school where she taught. While concealing him, she was drawn deeper into the clandestine world of the regional underground. There she met the local leader of the Resistance: Pierre Mulsant, a young Frenchman trained by the British secret service who had parachuted into France in the spring of 1944.

Drawn from extensive interviews, letters, and archival documents in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States, In the Shadows of War follows the fateful twists and turns of Allen’s journey from rural France to Paris, capture by the Gestapo, imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp and then a POW camp, and eventual liberation. It is an unforgettable, profoundly moving human drama of love and courage and sacrifice.

*The Washington Post Book World

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This is the kind of book you want to read slowly. The sights and sounds of the war are rescued from the past with the vividness of film.” —The Washington Post Book World

“A haunting book, a page-turner of the highest order, history at its very best.” —Doug Stanton

Publishers Weekly
The paths of three unlikely comrades-a schoolteacher in a rural French town, a downed bomber pilot from Philadelphia, a British-trained French bourgeois saboteur-meet and merge between November 1943 and May 1945. Local teacher Colette Florin, active as support for various resistance operations, provides intermittent shelter on the school's unused upper floor for Pierre Mulsant, who might otherwise have lived comfortably off his family's construction business, after he parachutes in from England in 1943. American flyer Roy Allen, after several successful missions, is shot down in June 1944 and ends up at Florin's schoolhouse as well. Florin is at risk of betrayal not only from collaborators but from neighbors with "petty jealousies and old grievances." As the friendship of the three develops, Allen, restless in confinement, attempts an ill-advised passage to liberated Paris only to be delivered to the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald. He soon meets up with Mulsant, who has also been betrayed. Mulsant is executed. Allen makes it though the war and visits Florin before returning to the States. University of Pennsylvania historian Childers (The Nazi Voter) delivers this grim, stirring account with rich characterization, believable dialogue, graphic scene setting, telling details and pacing that are rare for military history. He places his heroic central figures among their families, their co-workers (the plane's crew, the transmitter operator, the demolition expert), their co-conspirators (the milkman, the postman, the public prosecutor), those who assist them, those who betray them and those who are their captors and torturers. Using military archives, private papers and interviews as well as memoirs and firsthand accounts, Childers gives us an extensive, pointed cross-section of the war in France from the perspectives of those who knew the stakes, and acted. (Feb. 6) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In June 1944, American aviator Roy Allen's B-17 was shot out of the sky over the small French town of Jouy, where he was sheltered for weeks in a girls' school by Colette Florin, a young teacher. The lives and developing relationships of Allen, Florin, and Pierre Mulsant, the courageous captain of the local resistance circuit, form the core of this book. Childers (Wings of Morning) pieced together this true story of heroism and endurance from records and interviews, employing a novelistic style that combines multiple viewpoints with an omniscient narrator's ability to divine the thoughts and feelings of the characters. It is an effective technique that keeps the reader in suspense, rapidly turning pages to see what will happen next. In its ability to capture the reader and portray the emotions of wartime, this evocative book is in a class with Jack Higgins's semifictional The Eagle Has Landed. Public libraries will want this engaging, readable account, and academic libraries may want to consider as well, but more as an example of a different way of telling history.-Michael F. Russo, Louisiana State Univ. Libs., Baton Rouge Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
World War II historian Childers (Wings of Morning, 1995, etc.) employs with some success the techniques and diction of a novelist to tell the intertwining stories of an American B-17 pilot, a French schoolteacher, and a leader of the French underground. The narrative begins in late 1943 as schoolteacher Colette Florin joins other companions in German-occupied France to direct the nocturnal landing of a small Allied plane. We then learn the background of Pierre Mulsant, a Frenchman trained in England for resistance work. Finally, we meet Roy Allen, a B-17 pilot from Philadelphia, who is shot down over France shortly after D-day and fears he is the only survivor. Florin hides the American in a room over the classroom where she teaches; Allen, unable to keep quiet, sings popular songs audible to the children below. Propinquity encourages the young people to develop an uneasy affection for each other. Both Allen and Mulsant are eventually nabbed by the Nazis in separate actions; both end up in Buchenwald. The Germans execute Mulsant, but Allen is bounced from camp to camp, enduring the agonies, cruelties, illnesses, and indignities so common in those fetid facilities. After the Liberation, Allen and Florin reunite briefly and share a passionate kiss before he returns to America, his wife, and the son who was born while he was a POW. Despite the kiss, it had been a chaste relationship, asserts the author, who notes that Allen’s widow and Florin continue to correspond regularly. (Roy died in 1991.) It’s evident that Childers (History/Univ. of Pennsylvania) knows his stuff: the Notes and Bibliography bristle with significant sources, and the entire volume communicates an impressive familiaritywith the events of WWII, with the hellish milieus of concentration and POW camps, and with source material in English, French, and German. The author says he eschewed traditional historiography because he wanted "to put readers in the action." Despite some clichés and occasional mawkishness, he has indeed fashioned a crisp, compelling narrative. (8 pp. b&w photos, 3 maps, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805057539
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 694,623
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Childers is the Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of four previous books on World War II, including The Wings of Morning. He lives in Media, Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

Prologue xiii
Part I In Harm's Way
1. Operation Amoureuse: November 6-7, 1943 3
2. "Specially Employed": March 3-4, 1944 25
3. Milk Run: June 14, 1944 54
Part II A Village in France
4. Un Aviateur Americain: June 1944 85
5. Minister: July 1944 116
6. Une Chaine d'Evasion: July 1944 143
Part III Paris
7. Paris: July-August 1944 173
8. Captain Jacques: August 1944 198
9. The Train: August 15-20, 1944 227
Part IV Buchenwald
10. Jedem das Seine: August 20-September 9, 1944 253
11. Nacht und Nebel: September 12-October 4, 1944 280
12. Alone in the Kingdom of the Dead: October-November, 1944 316
Part V Prisoners of War
13. Kriegie: December 1944-February 4, 1945 351
14. Liberation: February-May 1945 384
Postscript 405
Notes 409
Bibliography 415
Author's Note 421
Acknowledgments 423
Index 427
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