The War Magician begins with Jasper Maskelyne “dressed in his finest Harry Hall suit” trying to enlist in the Officer Reserve. This description caught my attention because Alistair Maskelyne wrote in his first letter: “my father had a contract with a well known London tailor, Harry Hall, by which means he was given a huge number of tailor made suits free, in return for the rights to display large posters of him dressed in this apparel in every London tube rail station.” This accurate detail serves as a sharp reminder that The War Magician is not a complete fabrication. Fisher’s book is a curious combination of truth, fiction and falsehood.
Like many of his contemporaries, Maskelyne was at first ignored by the army bureaucracy. After several disappointments, Maskelyne eventually joined the Royal Engineers in October 1940.
According to Fisher’s account, after returning home from his successful recruitment interview, Maskelyne supposedly bids farewell to his wife. This awkward departure scene reads like badly-written romance fiction: “You look beautiful,” he said ... .They made love tenderly and fiercely and both of them laughed and cried and whispered enduring promises ... .” Fisher mistakenly gives Jasper’s wife the name ‘Mary’, but her real name was Evelyn. In fact, on the night Jasper Maskelyne was preparing to leave for camouflage training, his wife and their two children were already far away in New Zealand.
Alistair Maskelyne informed me that “with the outbreak of war, and the further decline of my father’s finances, it was decided that my mother, accompanied by my sister and myself, should travel to New Zealand, to live with an uncle while my father would seek an army job. Because of his lack of education beyond secondary school, my father had at first little luck in his application for a commission ... Our travel was funded by my parents, largely by the sale of my mother’s small Ford car, and the larger Vauxhall that my father drove, plus the furniture from our rented house in Thames Ditton, Surrey, not far from Hampton Court ... To my recollection we arrived in NZ in September, 1940 and our stay lasted almost three years.”
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