945

By Alan All­port

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - THE GUIDE -

(Yale Univer­sity Press, 395 pages, £25) This ex­cel­lent book looks at the ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ences of or­di­nary Bri­tish sol­diers dur­ing the Se­cond World War. The world that Alan All­port has dis­cov­ered is far re­moved from the hero­ics shown in movies and TV pro­grammes. It is a world of mind­less te­dium and low-level re­sent­ment about the point­less­ness of drills. “We are blan­co­ing our belts, while the Rus­sians are beat­ing the Ger­mans,” com­plained one sol­dier in 1942.

All­port di­vides the his­tory of the Army into three – the highly mmo­ti­vated pre-war reeg­u­lars and ter­rri­to­ri­als who saw ser vice un­til the Fall of FFrance, train­ing and equip­ping hund­dreds of thou­sands of ‘un­wwar­like’ re­cruits in the UUK.

FromF 1943 on­wards, men were in­creas­ingly see­ing ser­vice over­seas. Fight­ing in Burma, Italy and France brought new sets of prob­lems that the Army did not al­ways suc­cess­fully deal with. In par­tic­u­lar, how did you mo­ti­vate men long­ing for home, but forced to re­main abroad for years at a time?

Yet for all their grum­bling, the vast ma­jor­ity of men en­joyed their sol­dier­ing: “We wouldn’t have missed it for the world” is a com­mon com­ment in in­ter­views with old sol­diers. This com­pre­hen­sive and well-writ­ten book ex­plains ex­actly why.

Si­mon Fowler is a pro­fes­sional

writer and his­tory re­searcher

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