Nigel Jones

Finest Hour

The British Empire and the Second World War


Hambledon/Continuum 622pp £25 order from our bookshop

John Betjeman put it succinctly:

Keep our Empire undismembered
Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.

(From ‘In Westminster Abbey’)

Historians of the Second World War have increasingly seen it as a gigantic showdown between the two totalitarian titans, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, with a late and separate duel between the US and Japan. Other participants and theatres have tended to be relegated to minor players and sideshows. But, as Betjeman noted at the time, and as Ashley Jackson reminds us in this magisterial book, there was another vast power bloc involved in the struggle and – unlike the latecoming US and USSR – engaged from the first day of war to the last: the British Empire.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,