Max Despard was born in 1892 of Huguenot and Anglo-Irish ancestry. He served in the British navy in the First World War and was awarded the DSC ‘in recognition of exemplary gallantry’. His active career in the navy came to an end however in 1925 when a gun exploded next to him, tearing his hip and filling his thigh with shrapnel. Before and during the Second World War he served as naval attaché in Eastern Europe, directing clandestine operations on the Danube designed to stop supplies getting to Germany.
Tall and flamboyant and signing his name ‘M’ on official documents, he may be some of the inspiration for James Bond’s boss, but after the war his life went into decline. In constant pain from his wound, he was not re-employed by the navy and retired on a pension that only took into account his active service. In 1949 his wife died of cancer and he and his children parted.
Annabelle Despard was only six at the time and went to live first with relatives in Norway and then four years later with her much older, married sister back in England. She saw Max infrequently and the family never properly explained to her what had happened to her mother nor why she was separated from her father. This book is her attempt to discover more about this painful period – still a family no-go area – and about the father she hardly knew.
I’m a daughter of the sister she went to live with. I met Max (my grandfather) once, when I was six. I welcome this book. And, because Annabelle is an accomplished writer (6 books of poetry, another memoir, and 4 books connected to her work teaching English at a Norwegian university), and because Max’s life was both extraordinary and of its time, and because every family has its secrets, others will too.