Leo's War by Patricia Murphy ** Blog Tour Author Guest Post & Giveaway **

Cat and Mouse Reading... is bringing you an interesting mid-twentieth century story, aimed at Middle Grade / Young Adult readers. It is also one of those books which adults will find interesting as well, as it is based on a true life story. In addition, we have a great Giveaway with the chance to win a £30 Amazon Gift voucher (UK only). Details on how to enter are at the foot of this post.

 Patricia Murphy has written a great author post for us today giving us some more information about the Monsignor and how she went about researching all about him.

It’s 1943 and young Leo tries to protect his disabled sister Ruby as the Nazis invade Italy.  After his mother is arrested, he turns to Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty to save them.  But he is no ordinary priest.  Known as ‘The Pimpernel of the Vatican’, the Monsignor is the legendary organizer of the Rome Escape Line.  Soon Leo is helping out with this secret network dedicated to saving the lives of escaped prisoners of war, partisans and Jews.  But as the sinister Nazi leader Kappler closes in on the network, can Leo and his sister stay out of his evil clutches?

Welcome to Cat and Mouse Reading... today, Patricia. Over to you!



I first encountered Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty as a statue in the centre of Killarney in Kerry. There he was, mid stride, his cassock swirling around his long legs, a smile playing around his lips. I knew from the plaque beside him that he had played a role in rescuing Allied prisoners, partisans and Jewish people in Rome in World War 2. 

But it was only when I visited my nephew Sennan’s school to talk about my novel, Molly’s Diary on the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016 that the Monsignor leapt into my imagination. As we posed for a photograph, the Headmaster, Colm Ó’Súlleabháin pointed to the impressive mural of the Monsignor behind us and said, “Behold the subject of your next book.”

I went away to think about it, but still didn’t have an “in” on how to tell the story. Then out of the blue twelve-year old Leo and his disabled sister Ruby flashed into life. I had my thread into the story, through the eyes of a cheeky, rebellious boy, stranded in Italy.  Once I had my characters and knew the outlines of my story, I was able to dive into the research. I love this part. It is purposeful and absorbing and you never know what it might throw up. 

I have a degree in history so I particularly like to draw on primary sources. Luckily for me there were several first class observers in Rome at the time who became witnesses to history. 

It helped that the Monsignor knew everybody from anti-Fascist aristocrats who he played golf with to Prisoners-of-War, and cropped up in several memoirs.  He seems to have been incredibly charismatic and to have made a lasting impression on everyone he encountered. The Monsignor, who spoke three languages, Italian, German and English fluently became a visitor to POW camps. He really stuck his neck out for their welfare, organizing Red Cross parcels and letters home, often complaining about harsh treatment by camp commanders.

When there was a coup against the Fascist leader of Italy, Mussolini, many of the POW’s escaped. But just as quickly, the Nazis invaded and installed Mussolini as their puppet. So there were thousands of escaped Allies pressing into Rome, seeking sanctuary in the Vatican, which the Germans had agreed to recognize as an independent City State. 

Worried about their neutrality, the Vatican took fright at the hordes of escapees and many were turned away by the Swiss Guard. But this is where The Monsignor stepped in.

A maverick and a true humanitarian, the Monsignor set up the “Rome Escape Line” with the British ambassador Sir Francis D’Arcy Osborne who had taken refuge inside the Vatican, and the Swiss legate Count Sarsfield Salazar. He was also helped by the ambassador’s butler, a cockney called John May and a small army of priests and nuns concealing prisoners in convents and monasteries. There were also thousands of ordinary Italians who risked their lives to help the prisoners of war by hiding them in their homes. This was a Rome where according to the Nazis “one half of the population was hiding the other half.” 

Some of the POW’s became active organisers in the Rome Escape Line and three of them wrote amazing memoirs.

Major Sam Derry from Nottingham, every inch the dashing officer took over much of the day to day organisation, keeping tabs on the prisoners, the money and logistics of feeding and hiding thousands of prisoners. Records were hidden in biscuit tins and hidden in the Vatican. Just as tall and imposing as Hugh, he dressed as a monsignor to get past the Swiss Guard and visit the ambassador for meetings. Another officer, Scotsman Bill Simpson who spoke Italian took on the role of deliveryman of food and other supplies, braving Nazi roadblocks and checkpoints. Jewish John Furman also risked his neck on a daily basis to help his colleagues. Smart and resourceful he was swept up in a round up but managed to escape and cycle back into the city.

Other amazing memoirs include In Rome With the Germans by “Jane Scrivener” who was really a Brooklyn born nun, Mother Mary Saint Luke who worked at the Vatican Information Bureau. The voice of an urbane, wisecracking New Yorker still breaks through, a smart woman who knew her way around. She was meticulous about recording the weather – “hot as Lucifer” in the autumn of 1943 and the day-to-day privations of ration books and circuitous routes because of roadblocks. 

Another astonishing character was the wife of the Irish papal legate, Delia Murphy, a famous Irish folk singer.  Information about her came from her biography by I’ll Live Til I Die by Aidan O’Hara, and also anecdotes and letters she sent. 

While her husband scrupulously observed Ireland’s neutrality, Delia became part of the Monsignor’s “parlour of spies.” She helped out with smuggling shoes out of a factory that the Germans had taken over and arranged for pigs on the black market with the help of the nuns. She worried the embassy’s cats were ending up in the soup!

 I also read a teetering pile of more official historical accounts including some terrific biographies of the Monsignor. But ultimately the research only takes you so far and has to be put aside. My own narrative line was through the eyes of a child who soon wormed his way into the official narrative. But I was blessed to find so many vivid eye witnesses. I hope I’ve done justice to these once flesh and blood people who brought Leo and the Monsignor’s story alive for me.

Molly’s Diary – The Easter Rising 1916 by Patricia Murphy

Inside Rome With the Germans by Jane Scrivener

The Rome Escape Line by Sam Derry

The Vatican Lifeline ’44 by Bill Simpson

Be Not Fearful by John Furman, A. Blond 1959 – Out of print

I’ll Live Till I die: The Story of Delia Murphy by Aidan O’Hara

For More Information about the Monsignor:

For Children

Hugh O’Flaherty – His Wartime Adventures by Alison Walsh

For Adults

Hide and Seek – The Irish Priest in the Vatican who Defied the Nazi Command by Stephen Walker

The Vatican Pimpernel – The Wartime Exploits of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty by Brian Fleming

A great website on the Monsignor:  http://www.hughoflaherty.com

 Wow! What a treasure trove of information and useful links. Thank you so much, Patricia.

About the Author

Patricia Murphy is the bestselling author of The Easter Rising 1916 – Molly’s Diary and Dan’s Diary – the War of Independence 1920-22 published by Poolbeg.

 She has also written the prize-winning “The Chingles” trilogy of children’s Celtic fantasy novels.   Patricia is also an award winning Producer/Director of documentaries including Children of Helen House, the BBC series on a children’s hospice and Born to Be Different Channel 4’s flagship series following children born with disabilities. Many of her groundbreaking programmes are about children’s rights and topics such as growing up in care, crime and the criminal justice system. She has also made a number of history programmes including Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson for Channel 4 and has produced and directed films for the Open University.

Patricia grew up in Dublin and is a graduate in English and History from Trinity College Dublin and of Journalism at Dublin City University. She now lives in Oxford with her husband and young daughter.

You can follow Patricia here: Website   |  Twitter  |  Facebook 
                                            |  Facebook- Molly's Diary

 Book links: Amazon UK   |  Book Depository   |  Poolbeg 
                                                                          |  Eason  

Thanks to Patricia Murphy and Rachel of Rachel's Random Resources  for the author guest post and a place on the tour 

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