Together We Stand by James Holland - review by Nigel Jones

Nigel Jones

Sodden Sand

Together We Stand


HarperCollins 806pp £20

'The sand of the desert is sodden red,' wrote the imperial poet Sir Henry Newbolt in 'Vitai Lampada' of a disastrous nineteenth-century military encounter in Egypt –

Red with the wreck of a square that broke;

The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,

And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.

Half a century on, the Egyptian sands ran red again in the Second World War, and a very different poet, Keith Douglas, wrote – in more realistic vein than Sir Henry, for he was a combatant rather than an armchair spectator – of the grim sights of this new mechanised warfare.

Contemplating the body of a dead German killed by a shell from his own tank, lying beside 'the dishonoured picture of his girl', Douglas reflected with cold compassion:

But she would weep to see today

how on his skin the swart flies move;

the dust upon the paper eye

and the burst stomach like

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