A lonely senior army officer takes up his pen and writes a dedication to his wife in the flyleaf of a virgin notebook:
This book is not intended to be a diary of events, although it may contain references to my daily life. It is intended to be a record of my thoughts and impressions such as I would have discussed them with you had we been together . . .
The date is 28 September 1939. The author cannot know that what he will record in this 15-shilling notebook – and the many that follow it over the next six years – will become an astonishing first-hand account of Britain’s darkest hours, and a vivid, often harrowing portrait of one of its greatest leaders. For this is an extraordinary soldier, General Sir Alan Brooke, later Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, destined to become Churchill’s right-hand man as head of the British armed forces, and broker of the Grand Alliance with Roosevelt and Stalin. Yet despite the pivotal role he played, his name is still comparatively little known.
Twentieth-century military diaries are a mixed bag, and big names are no guarantee of readability. General ‘Pug’ Ismay was Churchill’s military assistant during the war, but that didn’t prevent him from producing a memoir of paralysing tedium. Field Marshal Montgomery’s memoirs are worth a go, but only because his legendary ego rampages across every page, almost making the book a comic masterpiece.
I much prefer honest, more human accounts – Spike Milligan’s side-splitting though often poignant tales of his wartime army service perhaps, John Hackett’s I Was a Stranger (SF Edition no. 25) or Anthony Rhodes’s Sword of Bone (SF Edition no. 35). But in my view, the Rolls-Royce of the bunch is Alanbrooke. His candid diaries are unparalleled gems.
Even so, their first published incarnations did not serve them well. An ill-fated collaboration with the historian Arthur Bryant
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