Growing up I lived on WWII stories and I wanted to be a commando. Soldiers who fought in that war were heroes to me, including my own grandfather. Like most boys I wanted adventure, bravery and chances to make history.
War, it turned out wasn’t nearly as glamorous as I thought and amongst the heroes are some cowards and the real reason courage and bravery stand out so brightly is because there is an awful lot of fear around. Next to great good was great evil and I was no longer in a rush to kill anyone. My commando dreams were over.
So for a long time I paid little attention to stories from WWII but just had this little pocket of respect and admiration for those that went through that war, a war that perhaps we’ll never see the like of again.
Not too long ago I watched Band of Brothers on DVD and that stoked the interest a little. A quick search on BookMooch and before you know it Bridge by Stephen Ambrose is on my doorstep, free of charge and it’s a cracker.
It tells the story of the first troops to go into action on D-Day, D company of the British 6th Airborne division that had to secure and hold two Normandy bridges so that later armoured troops could begin the liberation of France. The book works because it is focused on a single company and a single objective and because it is filled with the oral stories and accounts of those that took part on both sides.
It manages to be both historically factual and capture the tension and drama of an operation that was audacious from start to finish. It is even-handed in its assessments of the combatants. The Brits had great well-trained soldiers with superb information and intelligence gathering but inferior weapons, the Germans with the superior numbers and weaponry but with a mess of a command structure.
D-Company arrived by glider unnoticed and secured their objective, and were then oddly used as cannon fodder instead of repeating the feat in other crucial operations. I read it in a day, partly because it isn’t long and partly because it’s a gripping tale that re-stoked my admiration for ordinary men doing extraordinary things in unbelievable circumstances.