IT HAD TO BE TOUGH The Origins and Training of the Commandos in World War II.

The cover illustration for this book shows the wonderful Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge in the Highlands of Scotland. My sole visit back in 1990 remains a strong memory; I just wish I’d taken a more imaginative set of photos of it. I should have paid more attention to the details of the sculpture.

If detail is important to you, then this re-issue of a gem by James Dunning has heaps of the stuff. It offers a vivid account of the inception of the Commandos and their establishment of bases and training camps and the ethos of how they would fight. There is a strong emphasis on training methods covering every facet from mountain peak to jungle swamp. Dramatic accounts of battle are for other books but you will learn much about the selection of people, weapons and equipment and a great deal about the formative period of the Commandos until the end of the war.

One interesting aspect is the system of making individual soldiers responsible for their own needs, billeting them with landladies as part of process to infuse self reliance away from the normal world of barracks and mess halls. The development of combined operations and the formation of units to fight in the Middle East and in Asia are all part of the package.

The author provides a multitude of pen portraits of the amazing people responsible for training, discipline and administration of the Commandos, and many famous and not so famous members of the organisation are included.

This is a highly readable and extremely likeable book which benefits so much from the fact that the author is a veteran of those heady days. His inside knowledge and passion for the subject sets it apart from simple third party efforts. I really like his style of writing, the humour and the analysis. The book is a winner on every level and the title sums it all up succinctly.

Like the author I find it easy to lament the bad decision of the Attlee government to disband the army Commandos at the end of the war. Happily, so much of what they learned in company with their comrades Royal Marines is kept alive by their descendents in Britain’s modern day force

Mark Barnes

The Origins and Training of the Commandos in World War II.
By James Dunning.
Published by Frontline Books in paperback £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84832 638 5

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.