End of the Beginning, Tim Clayton & Phil Craig End of the Beginning, Tim Clayton & Phil Craig
In End of the Beginning Tim Clayton and Phil Craig use the same techniques of oral history employed for their previous book. Finest Hour described the events of the first full year of the Second World War, 1940, highlighting the drama of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain by telling the story largely though the testimony of those who were there. End of the Beginning traces the desperate days from May to November 1942, as Rommel swept through north Africa in a seemingly unstoppable drive towards Cairo, only to be finally halted and defeated by Montgomery's Eighth Army. The story of the desert war has been told often enough, most recently in John Bierman's and Colin Smith's excellent Alamein: War Without Hate, but the use of oral testimony makes End of the Beginning a particularly vivid account. It's one thing to read a historian's bird's eye perspective on battle and quite another to follow, for example, a particular gun-crew in the desert as they struggle to make sense of the seeming chaos surrounding them.
The focus of End of the Beginning is always on north Africa, as indeed was the attention of Churchill and his generals at the time, but the authors also find room to record the experiences of both combatants and non-combatants elsewhere. A nurse working in a hospital on the besieged island of Malta. A US soldier caught up in the fiasco that was the raid on Dieppe. A young woman involved in the briefing of RAF bomber crews flying from airfields in Yorkshire. The strength of this often powerful and moving book lies in the glimpses it offers of ordinary men and women obliged to do their best in extraordinary, and bloody, times.
(Paperback, 438 pages, RRP £12.99)