The recent inaugural SAHR book awards for Military Historical Fiction featured Peter Snow and Ann MacMillan as highly entertaining keynote speakers (good to meet Annabel Venning there too and hear more about ‘To War with the Walkers’ which I reviewed here a month or so back). I enjoyed Peter and Ann’s talk and warmed to their enthusiasm for their likeable son Dan Snow’s meteoric rise with his remarkable #HistoryHitTV.
The awards ceremony (in flooded Malvern) gave me the opportunity to stock up on reading matter and so – because, as my teenage daughter would say, #VeesReads is becoming ‘a thing’ – I thought I would add a review of Peter and Ann’s book, ‘War Stories’.
This assemblage of short tales of war-related characters, many of whom were unknown to me, came out in 2017 but is now out in paperback. It is the ideal gift for the ‘present drawer’: don’t just reserve it for that chap for whom you always buy socks (although trust me, he will be thrilled by the thoughtful change) – any reader will enjoy this book, especially if someone who relishes a ‘short bites’ bedtime read.
A glittering array of female as well as male chapter subjects awaits. The female voices in particular – some of them lethal femmes fatales – will strike a chord with women who read the book, which is not always the case with a war-related work. Someone really should, for example, make a film of the life of Krystna Skarbek, a woman so addicted to wartime danger that peacetime banality became her undoing.
The authors have not galloped through their subjects chronologically as is the norm but have instead categorised the stories into topics such as ‘spies and surveillance’ and ‘escapes’. I rather liked this thematic approach but although each topic is presented in chronological order, I still found myself hankering for a timeline of all the characters (so perhaps there is a proper historian in me after all).
I would have failed to read the book from front to back in any case. I noticed from the photos that Helen Thomas, wife of that most underrated of war poets Edward Thomas, was included in the section called ‘Couples’. That was where I dived in. Reader, I cried. Not just a sniffle, but proper, wracking sobs. Try it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean: there are echoes of Vera Brittain in ‘Testament of Youth’ which I cannot read without breaking down, even now.
This is also a book chock full of historical hooks on which unsuspecting readers will impale themselves with a desire to find out more about the history. I must now to go off and research how Harry Percy (who brought the news of the Victory at Waterloo to London) is related to Reggie (Reginald Heber Marion) Durand, Tom’s young friend in Major Tom’s War. Percy never married his French mistress, Mme Durand, but her two sons came to London, and one of them, Henry, became a Major-General. I am fairly sure he was Reggie’s great-uncle. No wonder poor Reggie Durand felt under such perilous pressure to succeed in army life if he had a Waterloo forebear to live up to as well.
I hope there will be a ‘More War Stories’ sequel coming soon.
Major Tom’s War was placed second place in the SAHR awards, by the way (congrats to the great Allan Mallinson who won) so it was a lovely day all round. Off to Punjab in December to launch the Second Edition…