Getting the British Army of World War II into one book takes a respectable degree of chutzpah but Dr Stephen Bull is ‘up for the cup’ in this weighty tome from Conway.
This publisher is an imprint of Bloomsbury who have recently taken Osprey under their wing and this book appears to have the pretentions of a supersized title from the popular military-based brand.
This book is an ambitious concept and as such it will and won’t please everybody. For me the sections beginning with pen portraits of leading senior figures set the right tone before cruising through a hardly unexpected path of units, uniforms, insignia, weapons and equipment. We also meet special forces, the Home Guard and find out about the roles of women.
Despite the longstanding dominance of khaki, the British Army maintained colorful traditions with corps and regiments jealously guarding their identities.
The author seeks to detail much of this but inevitably the look at uniforms and insignia can only be a guide with representative selections of badges and headwear. The book is big enough as it is without attempting to include every button and badge used by a vast and disparate organization.
The same applies to most heavy weapons, and the author has done a good job here sticking to the important stuff familiar to us all. There are no surprises on the small arms front, either.
Needless to say, there is a good amount of photography to support the text and the general effect is rather subdued, but it all works in a book seeking to be a bit more than mere infotainment. The impact is impressively sober without being boring.
All in all, this is a pretty solid book filled with useful information. Big pictures are awkward to get right because the devil is in the detail. I have a friend who is pretty jaded when it comes to books with “Churchill” in the title but it works well enough in this instance and second a book about the Royal Navy is on my ‘to do’ pile.
As said at the start, books like this don’t suit everyone, but Dr. Bull has done a good job of bringing a huge subject within easy reach. It might well encourage new visitors to our military world to become more specialized in their choice of reading, and this is always a positive thing.
No doubt readers more conversant in the history will prefer to digress into their specialized areas where there are plenty of books to blow their wages on. But if a hefty single volume is more up your street then look no further.
Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.
CHURCHILL’S ARMY 1939-1945
The Men, Machines and Organisation
By Stephen Bull
ISBN: 978 8448 6400 3