"Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews" Provided by Rob Jerrard

Random House Group 2010

Poppy's War
Edition: 1st
Format: Paperback
Author: Lily Baxter
ISBN: 978 0099550983
Publishers: Arrow Books (Random House Group)
Price: £5.99
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher's Title Information

August 1939: Thirteen-year-old Poppy Brown is evacuated to a village in Dorset. Tired and frightened, she arrives with nothing but her gas mask and a change of clothes to her name. Billeted at a grand country house, Poppy is received with cold indifference above stairs and gets little better treatment from the servants. Lonely and missing the family she left behind in London, Poppy is devastated when she hears that they have been killed in the Blitz.
Circumstances soon force Poppy to move to the suburbs and into the company of strangers once more. Earning a meagre income as a hospital cleaner, as the war continues to rage, Poppy longs to do her duty. And as soon as she is able to, she starts her training as a nurse. While the man she loves is fighting in the skies above Europe, Poppy battles to survive the day-to-day hardships and dangers of wartime, wondering if she'll ever see him again…


This is author Lily Baxter's first novel under that name, she has previously written a number of novels under the name of Dilly Court.

The story starts at the outbreak of WWII with the evacuation of the main character Poppy Brown from the East End of London to the Dorset countryside. She's selected from a large group of dishevelled evacuees by the Lady of the Manor to live at the 'Big House' complete with servants, the complete opposite of all she has ever known.

Although a work of fiction, the events, phrases and hardships are woven into the story, giving younger people, perhaps with little or no knowledge of the Second World War, a sketchy history lesson.

An easy and enjoyable read. The main criticism being that the story ends abruptly in August 1944 with the liberation of Paris and the discovery in a German Field Hospital in France of Poppy's secret love- Guy. This sudden finish, some twelve months before the actual end of the war leaves a lot of loose ends to the story. Did Brother Joe survive and return to Mabel I wonder, or Amy and her parents return safely from the Far East?

Rosemary Jerrard

The Battle of Britain
Edition: 1st
Format: Hardback
Author: James Holland
ISBN: 978 0593059135
Publishers: Random House (Bantam Press)
Price: £25
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher's Title Information

'If Hitler fails to invade or destroy Britain, he has lost the war,' Churchill said in the summer of 1940.He was right. The Battle of Britain was a crucial turning point in the history of the Second World War. Had Britain's defences collapsed, Hitler would have dominated all of Europe and been able to turn his full attention east to the Soviet Union.
The German invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940 was unlike any the world had ever seen. It hit with a force and aggression that no-one could counter and in just a few short weeks, all in their way crumbled under the force of the Nazi hammer blow. With France facing defeat and with British forces pressed back to the Channel, there were few who believed Britain could possibly survive. Soon, it seemed, Hitler would have all of Europe at his feet.
Yet Hitler's forces were not quite the Goliath they at first seemed, while her leadership lacked the single-minded purpose, vision and direction that had led to such success on land. Nor was Britain any David. Thanks to a sophisticated defensive system and the combined efforts of the RAF, Royal Navy as well as the mounting sense of collective defiance led by a new Prime Minister, Britain was not ready to roll over just yet.
From clashes between coastal convoys and Schnellboote in the Channel to astonishing last stands in Flanders, and from the slaughter by the U-boats in the icy Atlantic to the dramatic aerial battles over England, The Battle of Britain tells this most epic of stories from all sides, drawing on extensive new research from around the world. In so doing, it paints a complete picture of that extraordinary summer - a time in which the fate of the world truly hung by a thread.

Comments to Date

Holland is excellent on telling detail...This is a notable account of an epic human experience, told with the informality and enthusiasm that distinguish Holland's work...If the story is familiar, Holland tells it with authority and exuberant panache- Max Hastings, The Sunday Times

A definitive record...The fact we won is remarkable, and Holland brings the events vividly to life *****- News of the World

A full and fascinating account...Edge-of-the-seat exciting- Saga

Holland is a narrative historian par excellence who believes that people should eb at the heart of any story and brings the characters of the age to life...[an] excellent, highly-readable volume - Navy News

Full of lively accounts of aerial contests and well-observed details. - BBC History Magazine

The Author

James Holland was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and studied history at Durham University. A member of the British Commission for Military History and the Guild of Battlefield Guides, he also regularly contributes reviews and articles in national newspapers and magazines.
His many interviews with veterans of the Second World War are available at the Imperial War Museum and are also archived on www.secondworldwarforum.com


The battle of Britain began for me in the Autumn of 1939; wrote Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding in his despatch; after all, that was when Britain and Germany went to war. In the end, however, he opted 'rather arbitrarily' for 10 July 1940 as its starting point, the day the Germans first attacked southern England with a large formation of some seventy aircraft. Dowding was referring to RAF Fighter Command's role that summer and his despatch set the benchmark for how the great aerial clash over Britain has been viewed ever since.

Yet his Spitfires and Hurricanes first properly tussled with the Luftwaffe in May that year, over France, while the intense battle between the two sides was far more all-encompassing than an account of the clash in the air suggests. At every level, from the corridors of power to the man in the street, and from the Field Marshal to the private, or from the skies above to the grey swell of the sea, those summer months of 1940 were a period of extraordinary human drama, of shifting fortunes, of tragedy and triumph a time when the world changed forever. For Britain, her very survival was at stake; for Germany, the quick defeat of Britain held the key to her future. For both sides, the stakes could not have been higher.

The time has come to look at those critical months afresh. Dowding was possibly stretching the point too far in suggesting the Battle began with the outbreak of war. But it was with the launch of the western campaign that Britain began to face the worst crisis in her history, while for

Germany 10 May 1940 marked, inextricably, her crossing of the Rubicon. The point of no return.

In these five critical months, the battle encompassed warfare on land and at sea as well as in the air, whilst the British and German governments fought their own political and propaganda battles as well as one for intelligence, all of which had a profound impact on the unfurling events. In isolation, these differing aspects only present part of the story. Together, new and surprising perspectives emerge.

Truly, the Battle of Britain is an incredible story, and even more so when the full picture is revealed. Rarely has there been a more thrilling episode in history.

Bullet Proof
Edition: Paperback 2010
Format: Paperback
Author: Matt Croucher
ISBN: 9780099543084
Publishers: Random House (Arrow)
Price: £6.99
Publication Date: 10th June 2010
Publisher's Title Information

AFGHANISTAN, FEBRUARY 2008: in an out-of-control, dangerous country torn apart by war, littered with Taliban guerrilla forces and thousands of miles from home, Lance Corporal Matt Croucher, a Royal Marine with 40 Commando, accidentally activates a grenade whilst on a covert patrol behind enemy lines.
With only a split second to react, Croucher's instincts kick in and he throws himself beside the grenade, reasoning that saving the lives of his three comrades was worth the likelihood of losing his own.
Miraculously, and against all the odds, Croucher survived, and mere hours later was taking part in a gun battle against local insurgent fighters, demonstrating a raw, unique courage and devotion to military duty that would later see him awarded the George Cross - a distinction bestowed only on those who perform acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.
Croucher's George Cross would make him famous around the world. But his story is much more than just one heroic act in isolation. His is a life of bullets, blood and loyalty, and of lives saved and lives taken. From a young marine aged 19, when he was one of the first 200 Allied soldiers to invade Iraq back in 2003 as part of an elite force of British Marines and US Special Forces, through to his second tour of duty in 2004, when he suffered a fractured skull following a roadside bomb attack, only to return to action just a week later, and then being thrust into hellish Afghanistan, Croucher has seen vicious fighting, intense gun battles, roadside ambushes, and witnessed the death and injury of close colleagues on an almost daily basis.
This is his incredible story: a searing, vivid, non-stop account of one man's heroism and courage under fire, in the most gruelling combat environment since the Second World War.

The Author

Lance corporal Matt Croucher grew up in the Midlands and joined the Royal Marines aged 16, passing through the legendary 30-week training programme and into 40 Commando despite a series of injuries. He served two tours with the Marines in Iraq before transferring into the Royal Marines Reserves and returning to Iraq as a private security contractor with the United Nations. He re-joined 40 Commando for the ultimate challenge of a tour of duty in war-torn Afghanistan in September 2007.


This is the story of a very brave man and also a very lucky one, which is presumably why he chose the title 'Bullet Proof'.

This book is dedicated, 'to the memory of all those in 40 Commando Group who didn't make it back'. I'm sure the Author's dedication continues, because during the last week (written June 4 2010) four more brave Royal Marines from 40 Commando have lost their lives in Afghanistan.

If you feel you want to know more about the facts told by one who served on the front line, then this book goes beyond those images we frequently see on our television screens, punctuated by the sad scenes from Wootton Basset as the boys come home.

Young men join the armed forces for adventure and at times the feeling of what they have achieved leaves them feeling that the rest of us do not appreciate them. Hasn't it always been that way?

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

This led the Author to a misunderstanding with the Police resulting in a charge of 'Assault on Police'. He was sentenced. The judge handed him a sentence of 200 hours' community service and £1,000 compensation fine. In addition, he had to attend alcoholic awareness and anger-management classes.

This was of course caused by the usual suspect , alcohol, which we now read is a problem with the armed services who understandably have 'Flashbacks' but would prefer to forget. This is above all a very honest, frank account of war, where someone to whom the term 'Hero' really does apply, because in AFGHANISTAN, in February 2008: Lance Corporal Matt Croucher, accidentally activated a grenade whilst on a covert patrol behind enemy lines.
With only a split second to react, Croucher's instincts kicked in and he threw himself beside the grenade, reasoning that saving the lives of his three comrades was worth the likelihood of losing his own.
Miraculously, and against all the odds, Croucher survived. I hope he finds the rest of life a little easier.

Rob Jerrard

Forgotten Voices of D-Day: A Powerful New History of the Normandy Landings in the Words of Those Who Were There
Edition: 1st
Author: Roderick Bailey
ISBN: 9780091930110
Publishers: Ebury Press (Random House Group)
Price: £19.99
Publication Date: 07/05/2009
Publisher's Title Information

6 June 1944 is one of the most momentous days in history: the day Allied forces crossed the Channel and began fighting their way into Nazi-occupied Northwest Europe. Preceded by airborne units and covered by air and naval bombardment, the Normandy landings were the most ambitious combined airborne and amphibious assault ever attempted. Their success marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.
Drawing on thousands of hours of eyewitness testimony recorded by the Imperial War Museum, Forgotten Voices of D-Day tells the compelling story of this turning point in the Second World War in the words of those who were there. We hear from paratroopers and commandos, glider pilots and landing craft crewmen, airmen and naval personnel. We learn first-hand of what it was like as men waited to go in, as they neared the beaches and drop zones, as they landed and met the enemy. Accounts range from memories of the daring capture of 'Pegasus' bridge by British glider-bourn troops to recollections of brutal fighting as the assault forces stormed the beaches. Shedding fresh light too on the American contribution, they include the memories of British personnel caught up in the terrible events at Omaha Beach where United States forces suffered over 2,000 casualties.
Featuring a mass of previously unpublished material, Forgotten Voices of D-Day is a powerful and important new record of a defining moment in modern history.

The Author

The Author is a historian attached to the Imperial War Museum and the author of the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller, Forgotten Voices of the Secret War, and the critically acclaimed The Wildest Province: SOE in the Land of the Eagle. He is a graduate of Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities and a former Alistair Horne Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford

Praise for "The Forgotten Voices Series

'Extraordinary and immensely moving' 'The words of the soldiers are as fresh as if they were written yesterday ... Extraordinary' 'These stories are so harrowing, their witness so precise and devastating' The Times

'Terrifically moving stuff' Daily Telegraph

This book is as it states, 'A powerful New History of the Normandy Landings in the Words of Those Who Were There'. They are, thanks to this book and the Imperial War Museum no longer 'Forgotten Voices'.
These facts as recorded also bring us nearer to the truth as we are reminded by Winston S Churchill in the Introduction, that it wasn't, as the movies portray only Americans that landed, half were from Britain or the British Dominions or Commonwealth, although such films as 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Band of Brothers' do not include the fact that on Omaha Beach the Royal Navy played their part. For instance, Leading Seaman Wally Blanchard DSM of the Landing Craft Obstacle Clearance Unit found himself fighting Germans as opposed to clearing obstacles.
Reading the book last week on holiday in the South Hams in Devon, I found the interviews of people prior to 'Exercise Tiger' (The Slapton Sands Disaster) very moving (Page 51). Telegraphist Derek Wellman of HMS Onslow refers to the fact that one of the RN Close Escorts had to return to harbour, after it collided with an LST. John Capon of HMS Obedient says that it was the most bodies he had ever seen. RN personnel were told that they were not to talk about it 'for the rest of their natural lives'.
There are entries of familiar people. Lieutenant Richard Todd, 7th Parachute Regiment ( not shown in the index) and also many hundreds who will only be known to a few.
The book is a wonderful powerful record of D-Day and is well worth the money. If you are of a generation who already has some knowledge of these events, then purchase it for your Grandchildren.
It would be difficult to describe this as an enjoyable read as there are some terrible moments - but read it you must.
Rob Jerrard