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Facing Fearful Odds

My father’s story of captivity, escape and resistance 1940–1945



On 22 May 1940, Rifleman Alec Jay, trainee stockbroker and anti-Fascist demonstrator, landed in Calais with his Territorial Battalion, The Queen Victoria Rifles. Four days later, the British defenders, out-numbered and outgunned by the Wehrmacht, surrendered. While the bulk of Britain’s Army was lifted off at Dunkirk, there was no evacuation for the lightly-armed survivors of the Calais garrison who fought literally to the last round. 


While Alec became one of the tens of thousands ‘involuntary guests of the Third Reich’, forced to work propping up the Nazi regime, he was different in a vital respect from the vast majority. As a Jew, he found himself at the heart of a regime dedicated to extinguishing his race. He responded by becoming a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad, leading one of the few successful strikes in Nazi Germany, using his schoolboy German to demoralise civilians and staging five escape attempts. Four failed but he successfully eluded capture on the fifth attempt, joining the Czech partisans who he fought alongside during the closing weeks of the war.


Although he did not write a POW diary or memoir, Alec did bring home a slim volume of poems written during his captivity. Around these, his son, John, has reconstructed his war, drawing on numerous first-hand POW accounts and archive materials found in Britain, the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia. The result is an inspiring and compelling story of a young man who found himself ‘facing fearful odds’.

How to buy Facing Fearful Odds


Facing Fearful Odds is available in all good bookshops and through online retailers. The book can also be bought directly from Pen & Sword Books through its website at or by phoning 01226 734222.


Review extracts


“Facing Fearful Odds is well written...The most moving part of the book is the epilogue, where the author discusses a father always beyond his reach...” 

- Nigel Perrin, author of Spirit of Resistance – The Life of SOE Agent Harry Peulevé

The Times Literary Supplement - 27th February 2015


a moving tale of endurance and courage…a remarkable reconstruction of one man’s war…a fascinating account of life in a prisoner-of-war camp…” 

- Paul Callan

Daily Express – 24th July 2015


“...forged from an impressive array of sources...a very moving book, which takes us to the heart of darkness where so many men like Alec had to dwell, that we might live” 

                                                 - Ben Barkow, director of the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide The Jewish Chronicle - 20th March 2015


“....a vivid and engaging description of [Alec Jay’s] war experience....”

      - Bridget Galton, Features Editor and Associate Editor 

Hampstead & Highgate Express - 27th February 2015


…well written with useful maps and interesting  photos…of interest to anyone looking for a soldier’s tale of captivity”

- The WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society


"This is one WWII study that is part of a growing trend with sons writing their fathers’ stories. This book is based on a father’s start on writing down his experiences in war. To this original material is added further research by the author, and his sensitive editing of his father’s work. The result is a book that tells a little told part of the war in Europe, but not an unusual story. There is humour and courage, comradeship, determination, danger and eventual triumph. It is the type of story writers of fiction are keen to plot and enthral. The writing style flows and holds the attention. The story is inspiring and will be much enjoyed by a broad readership." 


"I write as a ww2 veteran who has just bought this book in its Kindle version and has just read it, cover to cover, with hardly a break. This is, at times, tough reading, particularly the episodes that deal with the "long marches" that Alec Jay was subjected to, but they demand attention and are beautifully told by Alec's son in honour of his father. If you want to know more about the debacle of Calais in 1940 then this book is for you but for me the most haunting episodes are those that cover the terrible conditions suffered by those unfortunate enough to be POWs but particularly if they also happened to be Jewish. I have not been so stirred for decades and I urge you to read this heart-rending but so inspiring tale."

- Ron Goldstein, ex 4th Queen’s Own Hussars 


"This is a wonderful book about a rather unique man. A Rifleman, a POW, an escaper, and eventually a Partisan. Buy it, read it."

- Posted by ‘BINGO’, on, the Army Rumour Service, the UK’s largest military community

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