Henry T. Gorrell



Commentary by Ioannis Mnasolas


Reading a common history book you just get large overviews - nobody mentions the otherwise unknown ‘little heroes’ or the very details of their life. A war correspondent like Henry Gorrell , fills exactly this historic vacuum. The book published by his son Ken was a revelation to me in many ways. Papers forgotten for a long time in the attic when opened , emanate unexpected emotions and strong feelings. This is exactly what happened to me when I read this book.


Henry Gorrell , in his book “Soldier of the press” , starts covering the Spanish Civil War from 1936 – the real beginning of WW2 for some - and ends in the N. Africa desert in middle 1943. But it is not the typical history narrated there , which you may find in so many other lifelessly written books. Henry Gorrell writes about those he met personally , every ‘Joe and Jim’ who really fought this war , their own feelings , their own views and visions , the conditions of their daily life , the war miseries and the moments of their personal unprecedented heroism. You’ll be surprised to know that so many individual characters never mentioned in enormous history books have shown moments of unprecedented determination and self-sacrifice which actually contributed to the victory. These ‘Joes and Jims’ where the target of Henry Gorrell.


Then again , due to such a work , the deep history researching that goes beyond  the known surface,  will jump-up in some cases. Because Henry Gorrell has written about some people and characters , at times intentionally disguised under other names , that played some important part in various historic moments at the backstage. Then again some others , like Frank Tinker , who became known much later , have been lying on this attic papers for more than half a century.  After Spain and France Henry Gorrell joined Greece during the 1940 Italian invasion and the retreat of the BEF chased by the storming Germans. There he mentioned certain truths that do not appear in any historic book at all. Quite a challenging source for modern historic researchers I believe. He then followed the British to N. Africa and then Palestine to end up covering a very obscured – intentionally maybe – side of WW2 , the revolt of Iraq. The most ambitious plan of Hitler to get to the Golf , taking over the immense petrol wells and then joining forces with the advancing Japs to block India and completely surround Russia and practically the world. He does mention the personal reports of some local British commanders who accepted that their , so to speak , stronghold in Habaniya ,  was hopelessly surrounded by thousands of armed Arabs aided by some German planes without a hope to stand. The few old biplane types in Habaniya , manned mainly by flight instructors (some of them Greeks) , made an appreciable number of sorties against the enemy and it so happened that their presence discouraged one of the most crucial phases of the war. Another detail , at large unknown to historians is that Iran was threatened in a similar way but was cleverly occupied by Russian and British forces obviously in full co-operation. While historians were not there , Henry Gorrell was , reporting in full detail.


Back to Syria he reported the fratricide clashes between the Vichy and Free French soldiers who killed each other violently , a detail that for obvious purposes history preferred not to expand on. He then mentioned about the US airmen who joined forces with the British to help repel Rommel. Another less known aspect of this war. He flew in B-24 Liberators and described the daily life of these airmen. Among them there was a revelation to me about a Greek origin airman on whom I had heard only once , seen in a photo with my friend Steve Pissanos by the end of the war. Steve had no longer news on this guy under the name Peter Vlachakis and I had never found anything on him. Except when I read the book of Henry Gorrell ! He personally described a days mission with the ‘Witch’ B-24 where P. Vlachakis , apparently from Sparta , born in Newark , was the navigator. He told Henry Gorrell that he saw his country of origin only under his aiming device on course to bomb Navarino base , west of Messinia , a county next to Sparta.


After reporting while flying with the US bombardiers Henry Gorrell describes in much detail the Tobruk and El Alamein backstage where he was fully involved under fire. He also covered in length events on the Malta front. Those days of desert fighting occupies a considerable part of the book. The unknown historic details remain astonishing. The one that impressed me more  was his reporting on a very violent Italian attitude against prisoners – another reality properly dumped after the war since Italy was trying to side with the victors , last minute. Henry Gorrell reports that sailors in the sea of British ships that have been sunk by Stukas were heavily machine-gunned by Italian torpedo boats , so mercilessly , that a German plane tried to stop them by machine-gunning the Italian sailors on them ! Despite of Henry Gorrell’s origin been Italian ( original family name is Gorrelli ) he also wrote on the mistreatment of British prisoners of war in Tobruk by Italians who have intentionally starved and occasionally executed a number of them , estimated around 200 persons. In contrast to that , Italian war prisoners were demanding always a lot , from food to cigarettes etc and were often getting them. He also reports that German prisoners treatment was by far less cruel but …he was astonished by the enormous …porn material …the german soldiers have left behind upon their retreat !


At every page of this book there is always an unknown surprise to those who relish ‘backstage history’ and ask for new things to research on. It is a pity Henry Gorrell did not leave enough after the war to make these details known earlier. But his voice coming from the attic is enough to trigger interest and emotions all the same .


It is a book you should not miss