The mythology of the Second World War is dangerously determined by film-makers, authors and the personalities of the participants. Reach for the Sky (both the book and the subsequent film starring Kenneth More), about the legless fighter pilot and POW Douglas Bader, had a lot to do with the romanticising of the Battle of Britain and German prison camps; Nicholas Montserrat’s The Cruel Sea and the movie that followed performed a similar task for the Royal Naval escorts that fought the Battle of the Atlantic. Anything to do with Field Marshal Montgomery was smart, partly because the Field Marshal said so. I still remember the little man presenting the prizes at my school, waving his recently published memoirs at us and proclaiming loudly, ‘This is a vewwy good book. I know. I wote it.’ He believed it and so did almost everyone else.
Others have fared less well. The army that fought in Burma was for years ‘Forgotten’, partly because it served in such a faraway place and partly because their Field Marshal, Slim, was so much less pushy than Monty. Despite the horrors of Salerno, Anzio and Monte Cassino, the men who