This is a substantial book of over 350 pages. When it first arrived, enthralled by its’ physical presence, I flicked through the pages skim reading here and there. My heart sank. There appeared to be nothing new, it was the same old battles re-told. Fortunately, because I would likely have viewed it with a jaundiced eye, I wasn’t in a position to start reading it there and then.
A couple of weeks later when I settled down to read it, I rapidly realised that my first impression was very wrong. Yes, it is the same old battles, (well they’re not making any more from WW2,) but it’s definitely not the same old spiel. The author has had access to the SAS archives, and particularly the war diaries and other documentation that were written at the time. It is this information that marks this book out from the rest. For each and every operation we are treated to the words of those that were present at the time, as they wrote them at that time. There is no looking back through rose tinted spectacles; there is no dimming of memories by our old adversary Father Time.
What is very noticeable as the book progresses is the change in tone as the war develops and the SAS experience wins and losses. What starts (despite the tragedy of the first mission) as a bit of a ‘jolly jape’ upsetting and harassing the Germans in the desert, becomes far more bitter and hard hearted by the time they are fighting the German boy soldiers of the Volkssturm in the final chapter of WW2 in Europe. You can almost physically feel this change on the pages in front of you.
Then as war ends we read about the chance discovery of Bergen Belsen by the SAS and the surreal experience of being given a guided tour by the Commandant: and finally, the last chapter of the former wartime SAS, seeking out and bringing to justice, those that committed war crimes against many of their dead comrades.
The book contains quite a few pictures that I’d not seen before, as well as a couple of the more commonly known ones. The chronological list of all wartime SAS operations was also very useful and something I’d not seen before.
I really enjoyed reading this book; I felt I learned a lot that until now had remained hidden, especially about the true characters behind the names of many of the SAS. One point I wasn’t too keen on though was the questioning of the sexuality of some of the guys. Whilst I understand that homosexuality at that time was illegal, I’m not sure it serves any real purpose in mentioning it now.
At £25 this book would make a great gift for anyone interested in military history.
I’ll rate this book at 41/2 anchors, it really is worth a read.