Tom- A Life Saved, Lives Lost (Book Review)

I first met Goffinet McLaren through a friend and fellow author. I was intrigued by her efforts to promote environmental responsibility through the story of a seagull named Sullie. Her book Sullie Saves the Seas tells the story of humans trashing the beach from the bird’s point-of-view. You can find my review of it HERE. When I met with McLaren so that she could tell me about her book, I was intrigued by another story she told me in conversation. It was a true story about her father in World War II.

When World War II stories are told, they often focus on certain areas of the world where the big stuff happened, like Normandy, London, and Iwo Jima. And yet so much happened in other parts of the world. Those stories are often told, but they don’t get as much attention. McLaren’s story is one that deserves more attention.

TOM is the story of Royal Air Force Sergeant Tom Hutton’s successful evasion after bailing out of his Lancaster bomber over Belgium in 1943.

Here’s the book description from Amazon…

In the middle of the night you bail out of your stricken plane over Nazi occupied Europe during WWII. You don`t know if you`ve landed in Germany, or somewhere else. A local farmer comes along. He doesn’t know if you are a Nazi, posing as an Allied airman; You don`t know if he is a member of the Resistance who might help you. Later, hiding in a Resistor`s safe-house, imagine your fear at the sound of Nazi jackboots marching outside the home. And feel the Resistor`s fear for himself and his family that the dreaded black car will pull up to the front door and the Gestapo will step out to search for evaders. How can you and your Resistor guide pretend to be unconcerned in a railway carriage as the silver-suited SS officers move along the aisle, checking traveler IDs, while you know that your papers are fake! These were some of RAF Flight Sergeant Tom Hutton`s experiences, now told by his daughter Goffinet. Parts of Tom`s story are tragic, such as the hail of bullets that cut down one of the most famous agents in Britain`s SOE, an agent who had helped her father escape just weeks before. Parts of the story are even amusing, like the Resistor guide who dressed in a flamboyant outfit to attract the Germans` attention to himself, rather than to the two Allied evaders who were following in his wake. And almost seventy years later, Goffinet learns the full story of The Village Priest who was instrumental in her father`s escape, and why she is reminded of this priest every day of her life.

It’s a great read. Not only does McLaren tell the story of her father, but the book begins with a short history of the war in Europe, which really sets up the background before Sgt. Hutton receives special order for his ill-fated RAF Bomber Command mission. One of my favorite parts about this story is that it focuses on lesser known parts of the World War II narrative. We learn so often about American pilots and bomber crews, but not so much about those from the RAF. In this story, we also hear of the exploits of the Resistance in Belgium.

Although Sgt. Hutton’s story was certainly repeated many times over the years, McLaren lived it as much as she could before she wrote it. This book includes additional research into the details, including photographs of the places mentioned and names and accounts of people relatively unknown before. She also includes maps and drawings as the events unfolded. The author actually went back to Belgium in 1955 as a wee girl with her father to meet Resistance fighters who assisted him. Then she and her husband returned in 2009 to complete more research for this book. It’s amazing to read the last section in which she talks about her research and additional meetings with people who helped her father and seeing the places where he was hidden from the Nazis.

This is an absolutely amazing book. I’m a huge reader of military books, and I would place this one in my required list of books regarding World War II in Europe. It’s not a dry historical tome, but the retelling of events that took place with the life and vigor they deserve. Unlike most historical books, this one also delves into the aftershocks some fifty years or more later as we see a daughter still searching for more clues to her father’s amazing story of escape and evasion from the  Nazis.

If you live anywhere near Myrtle Beach SC, I would urge you to contact McLaren and buy her book. Get it autographed. Offer to take her and her wonderful husband out to lunch so you can hear the story firsthand. If not, the book is also available on Amazon HERE.

This message was written by Dr. David Powers. You can always find me at Thanks for reading!



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