He was born in Liverpool, England, and left school in 1939 to study chemistry shortly before the start of the Second World War. While a student, working as an Air Raid Protection warden, an incident occurred that would haunt his dreams for the rest of his life. During a raid, he was inside a shelter when an incendiary bomb landed close to the entrance and exploded, sending sheets of flame into the shelter. He believed his life was at an end, but a back wall collapsed and allowed him to escape.
He volunteered for the army in July 1942 at the age of 21 and, because he had been studying chemistry, he was sent to a chemical warfare division. However, that was disbanded and he joined the Royal Engineers and trained as an officer. Because he spoke fluent German, he became an interpreter in prisoner of war camps. Sometimes he went to France on commando raids to interrogate prisoners while they were still on the heavily defended beach-heads in Europe. Some prisoners would be sent to England but he let others overhear false information and escape. He also flew to airstrips inside Europe, carrying out interrogations on the spot or escorting the person of interest back to England. This was part of Operation Bodyguard, a complex deception plan to make the Germans think that the invasion was going to happen in Norway and Calais, including feeding them disinformation about the allied plans. He was sent wherever translation was needed, for example when the entire German U Boat fleet surrendered at Loch Eriboll in northern Scotland in May 1945, he had to go onto the captured submarines and see if there was any information that might be used.
After the war he returned to university, this time to dentistry, qualifying in 1952 and he began writing around that time. He was the author of some 21 humorous novels, beginning with “Dentist in the Chair”, published in 1956 and filmed in 1960. But his novel which generated the most protracted and intense amount of creativity was “Simon bar Cochba – Rebellion in Judea” published in 1969. The inspiration came three years earlier when he read an article about the archaeological excavations of the caves at Nahal Hever in Israel, led by General Yigael Yadin. Among the items discovered were letters sent by bar Cochba to his field commanders, which he was able to read. He believed that if he could do so nearly 2,000 years later this was something that he should write about. During his research and his writing, he corresponded with a number of people including General Yadin and other Israeli archaeologists. The British Museum provided plaster impressions of the coinage of the time so that he was able to produce private copies in dental rubber, fusible metal alloy, lead and finally 18 carat gold. He was also a talented pianist and violinist.
Among his belongings in the care home was the wooden plaque shown below. It now hangs above my writing space. I used to visit him on Saturday afternoons. I will use that time to write, in tribute.
“He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”