Dangerous Liaison

Michael Howard

  • Beacons in the Night: With the OSS and Tito’s Partisans in Wartime Yugoslavia by Franklin Lindsay
    Stanford, 383 pp, £19.95, October 1993, ISBN 0 8047 2123 8

In May 1945 I was serving with a battalion of the British Eighth Army in victorious occupation of Gorizia, some thirty miles north of Trieste. We shared the town with a brigade of Yugoslav Partisans, and the relations between us were not good. Our lords and masters had decreed that the Partisans should be, for the time being, in charge of civil administration, while we confined ourselves to military duties. So while our drill-sergeants were trying to turn us back into proper soldiers on the barrack-square, the Yugoslavs spent the days plastering the town with peremptory orders and warnings, and by night carried out what would now be termed ‘ethnic cleansing’: sending out patrols to arrest the leading members of the Italian community, partly to revenge themselves for the treatment which the Slovene peasantry had suffered during Italian occupation, partly to ensure a favourable ethnic balance in this disputed region if it ever came to a referendum. My own landlord, a gentle Italian doctor, was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night by a Partisan patrol commanded by a pleasant-faced boy even younger than I was, who told me when I protested that the doctor was on the list of notorious war-criminals. For all I know, he was. In any case, when I rang my commanding officer to ask for instructions, that admirable man told me to go straight back to bed unless I wanted to start a Third World War. So I did, and, thankfully, a few weeks later left the region for good. If that was what the peace would be like, I reflected, there was more to be said for war than I had previously realised.

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