Tag Archives: WW2

Finish with a flourish

DominionPhil: Meeting up for lunch a couple of weeks ago, I was sat outside the pub reading in the sunshine. When Candice arrived, after she’d taken the mickey out of my hat, commented that she’d read the same book and written it up on the blog.

’tis true. I half remembered this. In the back of my mind it’s why I bought the book. Well, that and it was for sale in a pound shop.

The book is Dominion by CJ Sansom. A thriller set in an alternate history where Britain didn’t fight very much of the second world war, instead coming to an arrangement with Germany that sees us living in a sort of hybrid British/Nazi world.

(Warning: Spoilers follow)

Plot: Frank Muncaster, a geologist, learns an important secret from his American physicist brother. The realisation that after a very short conversation he knows how to make an atomic bomb terrifies him and the book revolves around the resistance’s efforts to get him out of the country while the Germans try to capture him.

That’s nearly 800 pages distilled down for you, so here are the good and bad points:

Good

  • The book comes fitted with a ribbon to use as a bookmark. Yes, I know it’s daft, but I really liked this.
  • The atmosphere of a 1950s Britain is well done. Basically, it’s very similar to the world as it happened but with more televisions.
  • At the back there is a history section explaining how the author developed the world the story takes place in, extrapolating from history. History experts have pulled this to bits but much of it seems pretty plausible to me.
  • The Nazis are a little comic book but the idea that they would try to appear to work within the system doesn’t seem so far-fetched. This isn’t an invasion proper so there aren’t storm troopers in the streets.

Bad

  • The plot is daft. Muncaster is a geologist and yet learns enough from his brother before pushing him out of a window to be useful in developing an atomic bomb. Seriously? The Manhattan project was a massive undertaking with vast numbers of scientists working on it. If you were high enough up the chain to understand all the technical stuff you’d never be let out of the country on your own to visit an enemy state. Even then, the chances of explaining things to someone with no training in the field are slim even if you had plenty of time.
  • At the end of the fascinating history, there is a four page rant about the Scottish Referendum. Even if I cared what the author thought of this (I don’t) then a hardback book is not the place for it. With the benefit of hindsight, whoever left that bit in looks a bit silly now.
  • Once the “secret” is obvious, the ending falls a bit flat. If there’s one thing I learned from it, it’s that a book really needs a good, big, ending. I’m very glad we didn’t edit away any of ours.

This might sound like I didn’t enjoy the read but I did. The atmosphere carries you along and in the peasouper fog you don’t notice the holes.

However on reflection there is a problem in that almost nothing that happens on the page matters. In the background, the most important story is Hitler’s death and what will happen to the regime when he goes. Nothing anyone does really makes a difference and that leaves this reader feeling a bit empty. There’s a nice epilogue to tie up all the loose ends but after nearly 800 pages I’d like to feel more satisfied.

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The past is a mysterious place and I don’t want to go there.

MedalsPhil: This isn’t the post I meant to write today, you’ll have to wait for next week for that one. While we have written a book together, we don’t normally pre-plan our blog posts. This means that on Tuesdays, I have a pleasant surprise when I read whatever Candice has written. This week was particularly thought-provoking.

Our families have very different experiences of wartime. My maternal great-grandfather, John Bridges, fought in World War 1. I’m proud to have the miniature versions of his medals, these being the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal respectively. From these  I can tell that he served from the very start of the war. Other than this I know little of his story as like most men from his generation they didn’t talk about their experience as the memories were so terrible they prefered not to re-live them.

In WW2, my paternal grandfather was an engineer working on high precision implements and so spared from the fighting. On the other side, my grandfather escaped from Poland to fly Spitfires for the RAF along with many of his countrymen. Amusingly, a few years ago, the British National Party ran an anti-immigration campaign using a photo of a Spitfire as the main image. They didn’t realise it was from a Polish squadron…

My father was born during the war but after evacuation had ceased. He later went on to be a volunteer in the Royal Observer Corps watching out for Russian aircraft and latterly atomic bombs. After this, he volunteered with the Air Training Corps. National Service missed him by a few years though.

So, with such a military background, surely I aspired to join the forces as a youth?

Not a bit of it. Quite the opposite in fact. Maybe it was a visit to the vast military graveyards in France when I was 12 or simply an overactive imagination, I have always viewed war as a case of “there but for the grace of God go I”. Born in 70 years earlier than I’d probably been shipped off to the killing fields of Ypres or the Somme. 45 years or so and it could have been Normandy.

Putting myself in the position of anyone involved in these conflicts is incredibly painful. Sitting in a cold and muddy trench, sharing my limited food with rats and knowing that at some time in the future I’d be forced to climb out and run towards a well dug-in enemy is pretty much my idea of hell. Add in the constant artillery bombardment and it’s a scene unimaginably awful. When the whistle goes and it’s time to go “over the top”, the chances are you’ll endure a long and painful death, not the quick lights out portrayed by Hollywood.

For this reason, I’ve never been able to read the diaries and reminiscences of those who did have to do this. They are me from a different age.

It’s also the reason I’m first in the queue to buy a poppy every year.

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