The Man Who Was Q

Charles Fraser-Smith supplied British intelligence and soldiers with a number of innovative gadgets during WWII. When Ian Fleming began writing his James Bond novels, he based the detective’s gadget master, “Q,” on Fraser-Smith. A few months ago, I reviewed Fraser-Smith’s memoir of his war-time activities, The Secret War of Charles Fraser-Smith, the “Q” Gadget Wizard of World War II.

David Porter wrote a full biography of Fraser-Smith in The Man Who Was Q: The True Story of Charles Fraser-Smith, the “Q” Wizard of WWII.

Fraser-Smith’s parents died when he was a child. He was brought up by a missionary family and became a Brethren missionary to Morocco. His ministry was what we’d call a “tent-maker” type today, a phrase coined from when the apostle Paul made tents to support himself for a while. Fraser-Smith directed a large farm for which he hired local workers. He was able to have conversations with them about the Lord while working side by side.

Charles and his wife had to leave Morocco and go back to England when WWII started ramping up. As was told in the previous book, Charles was sharing some of his experiences with a local church one day, especially how he had to come up with innovative ways to do things in Morocco. A British Ministry of Supply official in the audience was impressed by Charles’ innovation and flexibility. A few days later, Charles was invited to work for the Ministry of Supply, but without much information about the work involved. Charles accepted, and his book tells about his experiences obtaining supplies or creating devices to help the British during the war.

Only one chapter here is devoted to Charles’ “Q” activities, since the previous book had already been published.

After the war, Charles was heavily involved in relocating supplies that were no longer needed. He and his wife wanted to go back to Morocco, but a serious illness disrupted their plans.They then began dairy farming, with Charles creating innovative and sometimes controversial improvements in the process. He and he wife continued ministry work in various capacities.

After his wife died of cancer, Charles was involved in a number of ministry enterprises. One was funding a Bible translated into Arabic.

His son talked him into writing about his war experiences, since the period of secrecy he had agreed to was over. Charles did not consider himself very educated or articulate, so two ghost writers worked with him. “Charles was somewhat disappointed that the finished book contained relatively few of his outspoken Christian statements. But enough of his highly individual views, and his remarkable life, characterises the book for the reader to understand that this is no conventional story of espionage and undercover work” (p. 151). The book made him a celebrity, with interviews and showings of some of his gadgets. He wrote a couple of other books, with proceeds going to Arab World Ministries.

An appendix contains a treatise of Charles’ views of how missionary work could be expanded among Arabs by ministering to those who had traveled to Europe so they could go back and be a witness to their own people. He also advocated for unconventional ways (at the time) to minister to them, like hospitality, literature, and other methods. He stresses the importance of establishing indigenous, not westernized churches.

This book was originally written in 1989 and is no longer in print, but I had no trouble finding a used copy. I enjoyed learning more about Charles’ remarkable life.

Book Review: True Strength

I don’t read many celebrity biographies or memoirs. But we had seen Kevin Sorbo in a couple of things, then noticed he starred in Christian-based movies the last several years (he portrayed the atheist professor in God’s Not Dead). And he seems to have become more outspoken about his Christian faith on Twitter and Facebook. I became interested in his story. So when I saw his book, True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal—and How Nearly Dying Saved my Life, come out on a Kindle sale, I got it.

He grew up in Mound, Minnesota, with small-town values and a strong work ethic. He got some modeling jobs to help pay bills in college, then starting acting in commercials. Soon he got the starring role in three Hercules movies, which then transitioned to a TV series, becoming one of the top shows in its day.

Just as things were going well, Kevin noticed a lump on his shoulder. It turned out to be not cancer, but an aneurysm. A chiropractic maneuver released hundreds of blood clots in his arm and a few in his brain, triggering three mini-strokes. At first, the doctors’ main concern was saving his arm. But Kevin experienced a host of symptoms, from vision loss to lack of balance to buzzing and vibrating in his brain to headaches. The only treatment seemed to be physical therapy and time. Doctors called his health crisis “one in seventy-five million.”

Both because Kevin was a private person, plus he and the producers didn’t want his Hercules persona to be tarnished, the full extent of his condition was not made public. He filmed the rest of the series with minimum camera time, creative use of a body double, and plots that worked around his situation.

Kevin talks about faith in the book, but there’s no real conversion point or switchover. It’s more like he reached back for the faith he had been brought up with and started praying and relying on God to see him through. He rejected the “hellfire and eternal flames of misery on us sinners” that his childhood pastor preached. That in the Bible, but his pastor seems to have used it as a club to beat over people’s heads rather than an invitation. Kevin did believe in a “loving, forgiving God” and acknowledged that:

Before my illness I was fully preoccupied with the material side of life. Moving at the speed of light, I ignored the spiritual side, the unseen. God created this world, but I was determined to live in it to the fullest, to get the most out of it. I figured He would want that

Through his illness, he realized:

My illness made me special—in a way that I never wanted nor expected, yes, but if I was to be special, then I was going to do something with that gift. I wasn’t a half-god or any part god. I was a mere mortal, with human limitations and problems, but I was determined not to behave like a victim anymore.

His dear wife deserves an MVP award: they were engaged when Kevin’s illness struck, and she was his main support all through it.

There are some crude spots in the book, some sexual encounters (though not explicit), and a bit of bad language (though some of it is disguised comic strip-style with keyboard characters).

Even though our situations were very different, my experience with transverse myelitis helped me identify with-some of the neurological issues and the long recovery.

It was also interesting reading about some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the film industry.

I appreciate Kevin’s sharing his story and wish him and his family all the best.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)