British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

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Larso
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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 29 Jul 2016 12:09

Difficult Days by Mike Hicks

Mike Hicks joined the London Rifles as a teenager at the outset of the war. It was his father’s old regiment and he took him down to introduce him. Two battalions were subsequently formed, with Mike staying in the 2nd. It was duly re-designated the 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade and assigned to the 11th Armoured Division. Mike served with H Co throughout, from Normandy to VE-Day.

The early months and years of the war were spent doing a variety of guard and coastal duties. Their lodgings were often primitive and very cold. Hicks gets into the swing of things and progresses. He almost goes to Africa as a reinforcement and even applies to become an officer in the Indian army. In the end though he is put in charge of the reinforcement platoon and rejoins the battalion early in Normandy. Just in time for the epic battles before Caen.

Given the extent of the casualties in the infantry, Hicks is probably fortunate to be assigned to command the mortar section. He is though at the front spotting and calling for fire support and is pretty much in the thick of things. The British force faced five SS panzer divisions, so many Brits encountered the SS in Normandy. While specifics vary, the SS are often, as here, described as vicious brutes. There are a few specific stories here which illustrate their fanaticism. One of which was of two captured specimens who carried their arrogant attitude so far, they were taken on a one way walk to the back of a barn. There are other stories of direct combat. Hicks is open about the realities of battle.

Indeed, it causes him to strike an often poignant tone. It’s common in these accounts to read of joyous liberations of French villages. There’s certainly some of that here too but also times when parting shots by German troops cause casualties to comrades and civilians, including children. It’s hard to imagine a more bitter-sweet moment. Hicks has a rare humanity about him and there are several times when he writes harrowingly of the death of children or desperately young soldiers. Plenty of friends die too and the shattering effect of shot and blast is described at times with jolting bluntness. It rends him and the toughest of others.

When not dug in, Hicks and his men surge about in Bren gun carriers. This gave them the mobility needed to keep up with the tanks his battalion supported. His most valuable acquisition was the canvas cover of a US halftrack which keeps them dry. There are a lot of little things like this which convey the day-to-day realities of mechanised soldiering in this campaign.

Hicks has a nice sense of humour in describing his service and the rites of youth. He is hilariously lewd a couple of times. This though is offset by the horror and indeed, it is revealed that recording his memories was cathartic, as he struggled with significant PTSD after the war. Mike’s son, Graham has edited Mike’s manuscript and reveals that receipts from the book go to a charity run by the decendent regiment to assist today's struggling soldiers. Graham also inserts quite a few of Mike’s letters to his sweetheart to give a more personal flavour to his time on service. While not being in the first rank of memoirs from this campaign, this is a very readable account that offers something a little different given the perspective of the author’s role and division. 3 ½ stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 30 Aug 2016 12:14

'Lion Rampant' by Robert Woollcombe

Woollcombe served with 6th Battalion KOSB, of the 52nd Lowland Division from Normandy until VE-Day. He started as a platoon commander but as casualties took their toll he also commanded the company at times too. It is an exceedingly literate look at the intense warfare that took place in this campaign.

The author was fortunate to be with his unit for a considerable time before Normandy. He knew them and they knew him. This included the other officers and his commanders, who he idolised. The training and partying that took place served them well in making them an effective and cohesive fighting formation. This was necessary as they arrived in France on D+8 and went into battle against the five SS Panzer divisions deployed against the British.

After a few days being worked into the line, Woollcombe is in the hedges and corn fields of the front. Ominously, they are warned by the Canadians they relieved, that the SS shot the wounded. He sees dead bodies for the first time and indeed, one of his first jobs is overseeing burials. He is astonished at the sights: pale faces, waxy skin, scattered personal effects. They face concerted attacks that are only broken by intense artillery fire. They also conduct attacks and Woollcombe writes of meeting the teenage SS boys. There are many casualties and Woollcombe writes, so “This was the war. Vicious. Bestial. Insensate.”

Following Normandy, the division advances through France and into Holland. Again, there is tenacious resistance from the Germans, this time including Falschirmagers, who were very skillful. As with his Normandy section, there is strong detail on the battles but also observations on the Americans and civilians. There are some jarring moments and very close calls. At the end, he is one of only a handful of men left who had landed with the battalion. Even these though have suffered painfully from the strain.

The standout feature to me was the power of the writing. Woollcombe is a very literate writer and conveys his story in vivid ways. His style is almost impersonal though, he doesn’t so much describe his own actions but more the experience. He even slips into second person at times. Yet, the effect is absorbing. I felt it was one of those rare books that really did drag you in. It is almost poetic too. This book was first published in 1955 and it really deserved a re-issue. (He also wrote a history of his regiment) The power of the author’s prose and vivid perspective of front line combat makes this book a must read. Highly recommended. 4 ¼ stars.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by hucks216 » 30 Aug 2016 12:45

A Home On The Rolling Main: A Naval Memoir 1940-1946 by Tony Ditcham

One of the best Naval memoirs I have read. Tony Ditcham joined the Royal Navy as a Midshipman and the first half of this book covers his time as a 'Middy' for which he has used his officially issued Midshipman Journal to help tell his story, with the latter war details coming from memory. He was initially drafted to the battlecruiser HMS Renown post-Norwegian campaign before he was subsequently assigned to Destroyers with which he spent the rest of the war. Initially he served on a Hunt class but then went to HMS Reading, one of the 50 ex-US destroyers, on East Coast convoy work but would then join HMS Scorpion as an Officer Of the Watch and a Gunnery Officer and with which he spent time on the Arctic convoy route. His description of the Battle of The North Cape when HMS Scorpion torpedoed Scharnhorst at seemingly close range is a great read, aided by sketches of the big ship as he saw the action from the Gun Director Platform. He (and HMS Scorpion) would then go on and serve off the D-Day beaches providing shore bombardment and screening against German E-Boat sorties.
Ditcham finished the war on the brand new destroyer HMS Finisterre which was heading out to join the British Pacific Fleet after the end of the European conflict. He left the Royal Navy in 1946.
This memoir was originally meant to be for the eyes of family members only but after it was sent to a number of archives he was persuaded to get it published. There are plenty of photos and sketches throughout the book.

If you fancy a change from reading about sitting in a trench then I really do recommend this book. It is a proper Naval yarn!

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 11 Nov 2016 12:14

Previous Engagements by Bruce Shand

Shand joined the 12th Lancers in 1937, with socialising, hunting and riding on his mind more than anything else. Horses were only for personal time, as the regiment actually operated Morris armoured cars, having been a leader in mechanisation. Shand commanded ‘A’ Squadron when they deployed to France in October 1939. His active career included the subsequent campaign and evacuation, before further action in Africa until he was captured late in 1942. The book concludes with his time as a POW.

There is a fairly interesting account of the events in France in 1940. There was a lot of sitting around and socialising. When the Germans attacked there was a steady withdrawal and much chaos. Shand gradually loses his vehicles and crews in the process of his screening duties. They are allocated a policing role for Dunkirk and the Luftwaffe was much in evidence. Actual detail on battle though is fairly scant. There are certainly close calls with German elements but Shand is not really forthcoming on this. It is similar with North Africa and even Alamein. There is a lot of back and forth and continual whittling away of the unit. There are tragic deaths and wounds but the combat is not really strongly revealed. Shand’s time as a POW is of interest but there’s not a lot of variety in such a situation.

Shand is more forthcoming in relation to those he served with. He rated and described some colleagues very highly, others a great deal less so. Not everyone is a good organiser or people person and the stress of war makes it all harder again. Even so, Shand shows how the officer corps generally was mostly able to conduct themselves in a professional and courageous manner. Shand himself won the MC twice and attained the rank of Major. I prefer my war memoirs to focus on the combat but Shand’s account is also of value in showing the doings of his social class. After the war he was successful in business and was father to Lady Parker Bowles, who ultimately married Prince Charles. As a war memoir it is more of interest as a perspective of the life of an officer. It is well written and wryly humorous at times. 3 stars overall.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 19 Dec 2016 11:58

We Fought at Kohima by Raymond Street

Street grew up in poor circumstances. There was the Depression and his father had been injured in WW1 and was on a miserly pension. Street started his own service in the Home Guard and had a number of curious encounters with likely spies. Later, despite being in a protected occupation, he chose to enlist. He joined his father’s old regiment, the Worstershires, who are then posted to India. Here he has some interesting experiences, including with the exotic and dangerous wildlife. Then as the Japanese threat grows he is reassigned to the 4th Battalion West Kents of the 161st Bde, 5th Indian Division and fights in the Arakan, Kohima and on the Imphal Road.

Street is given the job of runner for C company. Aside from delivering messages, this included laying and repairing communication wire and cutting that of the Japanese. Initially he has a number of minor encounters with snipers and shelling. There is also a lot of infiltrating behind each other’s lines. There are a number of tense situations and deadly incidents and accidents. Also evident is the importance of proper bush craft. Street is fortunate that his new battalion had come from the Middle East and had many steady veterans.

Kohima is an astonishing battle. The 161st Bde had about 1500 effectives but faced a Japanese force of 15,000. The West Kents numbered 500 men, the other defenders were Assam troops. Over the two weeks of the siege they faced numerous fierce attacks by hundreds of Japanese at a time. Street is amazed that they always seemed to do the same thing. Bren guns and grenades were crucial to the successful defence but men using these weapons to their last breath was the ultimate difference.

Due to being cut-off the wounded couldn’t be evacuated and many were rewounded or killed by the intense shelling. The medical officers gave extraordinary service. Water was severely rationed and ultimately ran out. Air drops offered only the slightest help. The British area contracted steadily as the Japanese attacks wore the defender’s numbers down. The relief force arrived in the nick of time.

Street’s role as runner saw him delivering messages at night. During the day he kept low in his trench near Bde HQ. While he writes of many courageous actions by others he writes only sparingly of his own actions. There is also repetition in the sense that each day repeated the horrors of the previous. Perhaps this could have been written better? There is still material of considerable interest and it is clear it was an incredible fight. I believe Kohima was recently voted Britain’s most incredible victory?

This said, I actually preferred the material either side. Street gives some excellent description of jungle conditions, including the use of mules in the difficult terrain. He also writes of leave, including to England. Street really struggles with the dislocation and then tropical illnesses. The wonder of India is particularly clear. Indeed there is a lot to learn in Street’s account of his service. Just note that Kohima itself is covered in a more general way but overall this book is quite an interesting read. 3 ¾ stars.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 21 Feb 2017 10:43

Tank Action by David Render

Render joined the army at eighteen, noting that the bastardisation he experienced at his private school was good preparation for the treatment he received from the NCOs. While his army training was brutish and repetitive he got enough of it to emerge as a 2nd Lt assigned to the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry. This unit was equipped with DD Shermans for D-Day.

Render joined his regiment as a replacement officer on D+5. He had been sent to Normandy in fairly bizarre circumstances and received some awful jolts in the process. He was made commander of 5 Troop and largely continued in this role until VE-day. Again there are some jolts, including in dealing with his own men. He participated in extensive fighting in the bocage country, the ‘swan’ through France, combat in Holland and the advance through Germany.

The author experiences extensive combat. He is fortunate to have an experienced and sensible CO and the tactics they adopt give them considerable success in the hedgerows and against German tanks. He fights the SS and Falschirmjagers as well as regular German troops and has some interesting and dramatic things to say. It is close quarters stuff at times, as there are a lot of threats to his tank. He is responsible for significant carnage and relates it all. It is of course no means one way, the regiment loses 50 tank commanders in Normandy and the average ‘life’ of one is two weeks.

This points to some of the difficulties he experienced at the start. His crew knew he was inexperienced and quite likely to get them killed. It took a lot to win them over. He discusses this as part of an excellent appraisal of small unit leadership in war. Britain had been at war for 5 years and the line between an experienced and a ‘played-out’ soldier was fine. Render also has some clear sighted things to say about German abilities and equipment. He also has an eye for German vehicle types and has for instance, several dramatic encounters with Jagdpanthers.

This is a very good war memoir. Perhaps because he was only nineteen for the bulk of it he has retained a clear memory of events. Still it is a remarkable account by a man who was 90. There are a heap of interesting little tidbits throughout. For instance the weaknesses of the Sherman Firefly and various statistics, that will be new to even a well-read reader on this theatre. It is fascinating, poignant and frankly, often very exciting. It would appeal to a modern audience and I highly recommend it! 4 ½ stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 25 Jun 2017 12:06

'Ensign Italy' by Phillip Brutton

The author joins the Welsh Guards and goes through their officer training course. He has some ceremonial posts in London before going to Italy aged nineteen, to become a platoon leader in the regiment’s 3rd battalion. This is part of 1st Guards Bde, the infantry component of 6th Armoured Division.

Brutton joins his battalion as a reinforcement at Cassino. Here he mostly engages in patrols, though the Germans are very close. He operates around the castle but is happy not to be part of any final assault. In some ways it is almost a company of regimental account but there were a few new things to me about the battle.

He is then involved in most of the operations of his unit in the ongoing campaign up Italy. Again, he writes in a mostly general way. There are several dramatic personal stories but I expected more. Brutton is certainly in the thick of things, with many casualties around him. His recollections are often interspersed with short diary entries he made at the time. There are snatches of letters too and he often expands on these. He writes of friends, the conditions, leave and the campaign generally. He is several times in combat with the famous German parachutists. The German’s he encounters are mostly well disciplined and behaved, though there are several contrary experiences.

There are few accounts by Guardsmen, so it would’ve been good to see more combat detail. It is otherwise quite an informative look at the campaign from the perspective of a man of this social class. Brutton is particularly in a position to comment on the distressing repatriation of Yugoslav, Cossack and other Eastern peoples back to their homelands and often an executioner’s bullet. There are some personal pictures, a few maps and some extended appendices which look at the Italian campaign in some detail. This does though point to a broader focus as Brutton’s personal account, though comprising about two-thirds of the book, is fairly general itself. 2 ¾ stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 23 Jul 2017 09:39

Accidental Warrior by Geoffrey Picot

Picot was born in Jersey. In 1940 he went into the army and as he wore glasses, was assigned to the Pay Corps. In his own admission he was not a martial sort of fellow, so it was with mixed feelings when he was reclassified and went to artillery school. He was even more concerned when this saw him go into action as a mortar officer, a role he served in through the European battles of 1944.

Picot recognised himself to be fortunate to be assigned to the 1st Hampshires, part of the 50th Division. The battalion had seen service in the Middle East; fighting on Sicily and Italy. It therefore had a good number of veterans and experienced officers. Picot joined the battalion as its mortar platoon commander just after D-day. He then saw extensive combat through the entire Normandy campaign. While this was not quite an infantry position, at the end of the campaign, only he and one other mortar commander from the division hadn’t become casualties.

The interesting part of Picot’s account is his virtually day to day recount of setting up mortar positions, working out the allocation of sections to companies and other admin. There is quite a bit to be learnt of the complexity of it all – much of it under fire. It was interesting to read of Picot’s assessment of his officers and his men too. He is quite good at naming objectives and neighbouring units too, so it would be a useful source for research.

There is then the ‘swan’ through France before a return to combat in Holland. The Winter is a factor here as well. At the end of the year his division is disbanded to allow the re-enforcement of other units. He returns to England to do a refresher course in infantry combat and is then assigned to the 7th Hampshires, part of the 43rd Division. He is involved in the advance of the last couple of months and thankfully survives without injury.

This is the second time I’ve read this account and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. The author is very relatable in his view of war and the likely outcome for himself. He was determined to do his best though and he is very proud of his role in the infantry, especially in seeing of the threat that Hitler presented to the world. He has a good index and even an interesting question and answer section.
Highly recommended! 3 ¾ stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 23 Aug 2017 11:18

Armoured Horseman: With the Bays and the 8th Army by Peter Willett

Willett entered the army with the intention of gaining a commission. His initial training was done with the 4th and 6th Cavalry Training regiments. He has a number of both profane and humorous stories from this time and some interesting insights on the class differences to be found in British society. At Sandhurst, he is pointed towards an interview with a recruitment officer of the Queen’s Bays. When he is found to have been to the right schools and ridden with suitable fox hunts, he is selected to serve. While seemingly a bizarre process it was really about establishing whether he would fit in with his fellow officers, which in war is pretty important. He joins the regiment in Africa and stays with it until the end of the war in Italy.

Initially there is no combat command available, so he runs various support services. The Bays are part of 2nd Armd Bde, 1st Armd Division. When Rommel launches the attack that takes Tobruk and carries forward to Alamein, the Bays are roughly handled. They also commit themselves well and Willett’s observations are very interesting. By Alamein there have been plenty of ‘openings’ and Willett commands a Crusader troop through those battles. It is astonishing how hard the Germans were to beat. There then follows the pursuit towards Tunis (at one point his is the leading troop of the whole army) and various fights along the way. Willett is lucky to make it. Many of his comrades do not. He has some dramatic (and at least one very harrowing) clashes.

Following a lengthy break the regiment heads to Italy. As with other tank units they struggle with the terrain and weather and find it impossible to deploy properly. There are some bad days indeed, as the Germans continue to fight determinedly. The leadership gets better but there’s one winter too many. Willett, in a Sherman now and second in command of A Sqn, has some more close escapes. At the end he finds himself assigned to set up race meets between the cavalry regiments and turns it into an extensive post-war career.

This is yet another strong memoir by a British cavalry (armoured) officer. It is no blood and gore account but there are a number of very grim doings. The officer who rode out despite his strong (and accurate) premonition of death stands out. There are a number of other jarring commentaries of fellow officers. Indeed, it is refreshing to read blunt opinions but I guess, given such late publication, that even those subjects who survived the war, were deceased anyway. (At his death in 2015, Willett was the last surviving Bays officer from Alamein.) It is probable that this will be the last memoir published by a man who was there. While there are many interesting elements he participated in, Willett also includes several detailed passages by fellow officers. Willett also has insightful explanations about commanders and the use of tanks. All up there is a lot to like. 4 stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 22 Sep 2017 06:44

Battle Tales from Burma by John Randle

The author was a young British officer who served throughout the war with 7/10th Baluch Regt of the 17th Indian Division. He was with the battalion when the Japanese first attacked and commanding a company when they had turned defeat into victory over three years later. Remarkably, by the end, the battalion had returned to virtually the same location it had occupied at the start.

Randle tells his story in a series of vignettes. These chapters deal with a wide variety of subjects, some common to most memoirs but a number, unique to service in an Indian battalion. These include the sometimes complex religious issues and cultural differences but principally the steadiness of the men and their local NCOs. It is always fascinating how the British had to walk some very fine lines to maintain their authority. Of the Burma memoirs I have read, this is the most fascinating on these issues.

In terms of combat, the 7/10th Baluchs see a lot of action, including their near destruction at the Battle of Pa-an in February 1942. There is then the epic retreat and then involvement in many of the other key actions of the campaign. Randle was also in action at Red Hill, which was the furtherest point the Japanese reached. There are certainly some grim stories in fighting the Japanese; units are over-run and wiped out and the Baluch wounded at Pa-an were murdered. There’s some payback too. This said, Randle doesn’t write much about personal combat, his stories are about his men and the officers he observed. There are some surprising things it must be said.

At 176 pages, including some appendices and a good index, it is a fairly short book but it is a fascinating look at the workings of an Indian battalion at war prior to Independence. The author was very young at the time and it is remarkable how much responsibility he was given. He had some great fortune but also made some very good decisions. The use of short stories is different to the traditional narrative but it works here. An enjoyable, interesting account.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 24 Jan 2018 06:59

In the Face of the Enemy by E. A. Powdrill

Powdrill was a pre-war soldier. When the war started he was a gun sergeant with C Troop, 30/46 Battery of the 10th Field Rgt. They used 18/25 pounders, which were re-bored WW1 guns. In France they were part of 2nd Infantry Division. When the fighting started they fire plenty of support missions, that progressively start to reveal the collapse of the front. Remarkably, despite the chaos and some close calls with German mechanised forces, they maintain unit cohesion to the end. Interestingly, despite the collapse of supply lines he declines any opportunity to obtain food, as looting was severely punished! Just before the end he is wounded but fortunate in his treatment and evacuation. There were some interesting stories through here but the surprise to me was that when conducting a fire mission, there was no seeking cover from counter-battery fire! They kept at it and simply endured casualties.

Powdrill returns to France in June 1944 as a member of H Battery, 13th HAC Regt RHA , part of 11th Armd Div. This time he is WO2 BSM of ‘D’ Trp, commanding four Sexton self propelled 25 pounders. There are a host of fire missions, to the extent that they rarely get any rest. What time is found is utilised to maintain and supply their vehicles and weapons. Powdrill has a Bren carrier which he whips around in, doing whatever it took to obtain the huge amount of ammunition needed. They are strongly involved in Epsom and Goodwood. Here they were supporting 3RTR and are obliged to themselves traverse the infamous railway line that cut the battle field in half. The conditions are chaotic with masses of incoming shelling and shattered ground littered with destroyed tanks and dead. He writes that 11th Armd lost 191 tanks the first day. They themselves are caught in the midst of tank battles and at times are confronting German forces directly. Much of the time Powdrill is performing 4 jobs and the exhaustion is acute. This is a very interesting element of the book.

The remainder of Powdrill’s experiences relate to the ‘swan’ through France and the actions in Holland and into Germany. They suffer casualties but in many ways they are lucky. Shells just miss, a German patrol turns the other way or an ambush is imperfectly sprung. While comparatively safer than the infantry, it is still a hard war. Powdrill’s account is a good one and given he was in a mechanised regiment, he has a very interesting perspective. There is a degree of repetition due to the nature of the role. Though his fighting is often remote from the target, he still has stories of war horrors. This is not a sanitised account and the author seems to have been open with the details of his service. Recommended 3 ½ stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 29 Sep 2018 11:31

Soldier On by S. W. Knowles

The author joins B squadron of the 16th/5th Lancers in Tunisia at the end of the battles there. He goes to battle himself in Italy, initially as an infantryman. Then there is some time in the rear echelon until a ‘vacancy’ arises. He is then a radioman in a Sherman until the end of the campaign. He finishes the war on occupation duty in Austria.

While Knowles is involved in quite a few armoured engagements, he doesn’t write much about these. His tank is hit a few times and there are crew casualties but there isn’t the sense of being in a tank. His most vivid accounts of the war happen outside. He is at various times sent on patrols or fatigues of some sort to the front line. Here they are on the receiving end of shelling and some awful things happen. There is also quite a bit on soldiering in Italy, the weather and winter, food and drink. Knowles is a decent man, who did his duty. This account is the only one I know about pertaining to this regiment. Even so, while written well enough, there isn’t much that is compelling about tanks in battle. 2¾ stars

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by Larso » 11 Nov 2018 10:36

'The 8.15 to War' by Peter Roach

This is a remarkable book published in 1982. (Yet despite numerous searches over a decade for accounts on this topic, it only appeared to me recently?) Roach had an unusual start to the war by joining the Merchant Service – he’d just spent two years sailing his own boat around the world. However, after voyages spent dodging torpedoes, bombs and shells, he decided he wanted to shoot back. This resulted in him joining the 1st Tank Regiment of the 7th Armoured Division in Africa. He is then in Italy, before fighting in Normandy and Holland.

The first thing to be said is that Roach writes in a very poetic style. It is very engaging but not as precise as a more standard narrative. He rarely refers to others by their actual names, preferring nicknames, their rank or just an initial. Sometimes it’s clear why. Other times I think it reflects the transient existence, with men coming and going on a regular basis. The other thing to note is that for his stint in Africa to Tunisia, Roach is mostly involved in support and radio work, often for his commander and doesn’t see much in the way of action, though towards the end there he does some patrolling work. There is quite a bit on the conditions, air raids and the ongoing quest for alcohol and food. But there’s enough death nearby for him to write of eating, with ‘the smell of cooking flesh’. So it certainly has an edge to it. Interestingly, he writes of poor treatment by ‘division’ in the way of giving them rest and proper facilities after the campaign.

For Italy they hand back in their scout cars for bren gun carriers, which infuriated them. Roach is in recce troop, though as operator for the troop leader. He enjoyed this, noting this was where the sabre squadrons had dumped their most ‘bolshie’ men. But rather than them being difficult, Roach found these fellows to be ‘individuals’ (like himself). The unit returns to England for the invasion of France. They are issued with Humber scout cars which were widely disliked but there was complete gloom at receiving Cromwells.

In Normandy, Roach is still in recce troop but though a mere corporal, operates as liaison officer. He is given command of his own Stewart tank, though with the turret removed. The days are terribly long and exhaustion and the deadly resistance of the Germans wear everyone down. The tiffs and tones he hears over the ‘net reveal a lot of this. He is on the edge of several of the epic battles but he only sees the aftermath of these. There are many casualties around him, he eventually suffers a wound himself.

Roach’s final tilt with the Germans comes in Holland. By this stage he has gone a bit ‘bomb happy’ and begins to take risks. He is not necessarily afraid, just worn completely down. He also has his moments of battle lust where he finally gets to shoot back properly. By now though, he’s thoroughly sick of the army and despite a heroic swansong, there’s one last injustice and a life long regret. It’s been a very long war.

For this review, I reread the second half of the book again and enjoyed it thoroughly. Roach is extremely observant, with a wry and often cynical turn of phrase. It is full of little details; the boredom, the tragedies. Effort and bravery are not always rewarded. Roach does an officers job, for corporal pay. Some of the actual officers argue or are fools. Others are steady and it seems, doomed to die. Roach can’t help but begrudge those in depots who gain easier promotions in much safer duties. It’s clear Roach was a difficult subordinate at times. As a writer however, he is fascinating and colourful, humourous and honest. This is a richly written book that says more than it initially appears to. Highly recommended 4 ¼ stars.

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Re: British WW2 Memoirs - Reviews

Post by B Hellqvist » 05 Jul 2019 15:07

"From the City, From the Plough" by Alexander Baron is a novel with some autobiographical and historical bits, and while it doesn't qualify as a memoir, it has been hailed as one of the best descriptions of life as a Tommy written. It covers the training of a fictional battalion (although based on a real unit) and its subsequent deployment and near destruction in Normandy. The narrative follows enlisted men, NCOs and officers, giving a multi-faceted perspective. Well worth reading, but hard to find.

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