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Time to Kill: The Soldier's Experience of War in the West 39-45.

Paul Addison and Angus Calder from the Centre for Second World War Studies (University of Edinburgh) have put together and edited the `talks' given at a 1995 conference, organised by the History Department, on the sub-title of this book. They are to be congratulated for their diligence as the content is a refreshing change from the welter of books written by those at the top. Indeed it could well be the first book to focus on life at the bottom end of warring armies.

The scenario is immense as it contains five chapters on the British (including `Dad's Army' and the anti-war wave which swept through the universities in the 30s); five on the Commonwealth contribution; seven on armies in Europe and two `memoirs' (a pity there were not more of these accounts of life at the sharp end) -- all this prefaced by two splendid introductory talks by John Keegan on `Combat Motivation' and John Ellis on the `Sharp End of War'.

To go into invidious choice and detail: it was gratifying to see -- at last -- a sensible and fair chapter on the Italian Army in combat from 1940-43. For many of us at that time the Italians were the `wops who ran away in the desert and surrendered in droves'. What we did not know was the hopeless lock of efficient logistic administration which meant that many of the divisions in Libya had to go to the front on foot as they had so little transport. Then, when the various balloons went up between 1941 and Alamein, the Italians had no means of avoiding surrender as did the Germans who got away in their transport. Aside from this, the chapter lists how bravely the properly trained Italian units fought when they had the chance. Alas, it was outside the scope of this study to cover the sterling work of the partisans after Badoglio blew the whistle in September 1943. During the remaining eighteen months of the war in Italy, the partigiani, many of whom were former members of the Italian army, suffered nearly 50,000 casualties (killed and wounded). Their bravery and that of the contadini were on a par with that of the French Resistance. Too few British are aware of this aspect of the Italians who with few exceptions loathed their German allies.

There is a revealing chapter on the Roumanian peasant army and their appalling casualties at the siege of Odessa. How many of us before this lecture knew that when Roumania changed sides in August 1944 they brought over a million men into the fray on the Allied side or that, after that date, they lost more men killed, wounded or missing than the Allies on the Western Front? The chapter on `Women in Combat in the Red Army' makes heroic if chilling reading especially as there are more quotations from serving women than in many of the other chapters where the content is often more academic than the reality at the sharp end which is, after all, what the conference was about.
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Author:Lee, Peter
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1997
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