A novel of war written from a human point of view, this is a book which moves along at an impressive pace. Originally published in 1960, it has just been republished in the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series, a worthy addition to that series. It is a very human story, of men in confined spaces, going into action and facing many challenges. This appears to be an accurate picture of war as it was fought, stretching from the invasion of Normandy by the allied forces in 1944 right through to the movement into Germany. This book was written as a fictionalised account of a man’s actual experience of the action to liberate north – west Europe. Featuring a small number of men who are in the various tanks in a troop, the cast of characters changes for various reasons, but throughout Michael Brook is the character who travels from enthusiastic new warrior to battle hardened commander. This is an extremely well written novel with a dynamic sense of action which carries throughout the book. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.
As the novel begins, Sergeant Donovan is in command of the tank, and is attempting to ensure that the four members of his crew work together to create a unit that can fight and survive. Donovan has a lot of experience of battles in various theatres of war, and has gone through various emotions of cynicism, bravery and is now in the reality of fear. He knows that the big battles are coming in Europe, and he knows that he will have to summon every ounce of his courage to survive. He realises that having won two medals almost without conscious bravery, he is hitting the bottom of his mental reserves. He works out that his crew were “only thirteen or fourteen years old when it all began”, and that Brook, his second in command, is only nineteen now. The various policies of staffing the tanks is a theme throughout the novel, as the need to balance untried young men with experienced older combatants is attempted. Brook soon realises that part of the price of leadership is the reality of no longer being an equal in the eyes of the other men, and as he rises through the ranks he knows he must make decisions that could cost lives. The impulse to volunteer is discussed, as the more dangerous positions for the tank are endured. As the tanks progress through the countryside, they are challenged by German troops withdrawing. These are not set piece battles but struggles through territory that may or may not be treacherous. The people who have been liberated as the Germans withdraw present their own challenges, as they wish to show their gratitude in various ways. Brook and the other men are continually tempted and distracted, but when fighting they must endure days and nights without rest, food and respite from fighting.
This book has a transparent honesty and vital speed which propels the characters through many experiences both in terms of fighting and taking leave in Britain. Though not a huge fan of “War” novels, this is a book about humans being pushed to the limits of their endurance and courage. There is an irony in some of the events as danger is not always obvious. I was reminded that many of these men facing potential death and dangerous danger were very young. There are hints of humour, understanding and empathy, and the reality of experience. I recommend this novel to those who are interested in human experience and the reality of war.
I do have memories of my father mentioning incidents from his progress across the Europe as infantry transport, so I found this book particularly fascinating. It is the sixth book I have read in this series of books from the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series, and I would recommend all of them for real insights into the experience of war in various forms, and I look forward to reading and reviewing more.