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“Last Hope Island” refers to Britain during WWII, the last hope for stopping the seemingly endless German aggression in Europe.

I’ve read many books on WWII, but this was full of fascinating and unfamiliar stories.

This book’s focus was twofold: One is European governments in exile in London, and the other is spy networks that formed in occupied countries against the Nazi occupiers.

This book had great details about the governments in exile who found a home for the duration of the war in England and their sometimes-contentious relationship with the British government, which had its own wartime priorities.

The book covered the often-perilous escape of various governments and royals as each European country was invaded by Nazis. Often, the royals in each country were more prepared for invasion than their governments.

Hitler especially wished to capture the popular Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands and told his commander to present her with flowers and treat her with the utmost respect when they captured her.

She managed a last-minute escape as Nazis were clearing out the final strongholds of Dutch resistance.

She often spoke from London on the BBC’s program broadcast to the Netherlands and advocated strongly for aid to her beleaguered countrymen.

As to her persistence, Winston Churchill famously said, “I fear no man in the world but Queen Wilhemina.”

While many other books mention the governments in exile, this book covers it thoroughly.

The other focus of this book was on spy networks working as resistance in the occupied countries.

The British were at first hesitant to drop natives who had escaped the occupied countries back in to spy but eventually got on board. Unfortunately, the learning curve was extremely steep.

Between dressing them in British clothes, giving them coins no longer in circulation and requiring that agents transmit at the same time each day, making it easy for the Nazis to track them down, they needlessly lost a lot of agents.

The most egregious error, though, was teaching the agents to begin each transmission with a code to prove they hadn’t fallen into enemy hands, then ignoring the fact that most agents in the Netherlands didn’t use it (because they had been captured!).

One final aspect I found especially interesting was how vital the Polish airmen who escaped to England were to the air defense of England.

The Brits wouldn’t let them fly for a whole year, thinking they were subpar pilots despite the fact that the Polish pilots were the only ones who had actually flown against the Luftwaffe in combat.

The British officer in charge of their training finally talked the British government into using the Polish pilots after heavy loses of British pilots and planes.

The Poles immediately proved their worth many times over in shooting down Luftwaffe aircraft. They became celebrated national heroes in Britain.

This book was extremely readable and very engaging if you enjoy learning more about World War II.

Rachel Vellenga is a youth services librarian at The Urbana Free Library. She loves reading (surprise!), working with families and international travel, and is pretty handy with scissors and construction paper.