My book review of ‘Dunkirk to Bilsen’ written by John Sadler
In my view
The memoirs of several soldiers, the letters of several leading officers, speeches of highly ranked persons and even songs sang while marching; are all described in this extraordinary memoirfull book about World War II. The story is in particular following the Durham Light Infantry. A strong group of previously miners and tough men with dignity and respect.
The story line through all the stories is a bit vague but if you read one story at the time and for example one in a day, then you can imagine how it would have been to be a soldier of the Durham Light Infantry. Every story is so detailed and contains lots and lots of facts. It is now and then hard to follow because it contains some soldier or military jargon too. The composition of the units is described and a bit pre war as well. The book contains also very detailed battles and inbetween moments. How things really went is very detailed and extensive described. A modern film about the World War II nowadays barely tells you the perspectives and feelings of a soldier or a group like the Durham Light Infantry.
It is so incredible detailed that even lots of numbers of the registered* deaths, wounded, prisoners and survivors are reported. Not only from the Durham Light Infantry but also from the allied forces that fought along with them and the opponent. The recording of the stats in this book is amazing.
The big opponent in several stories is German general Erwin Rommel. I have seen lots of documentaries and heard quite some stories, but this book with all it’s soldiers point of view battles is a really good and detailed addition. The war changed through the years. The war was very different in the beginning and it was anticipated very differently. Military tactics and political. But a nice thing is the songs that are mentioned in the book. A few of them are accompanied by lyrics and they give also an idea of the mood of the marching soldiers. And a joyful twist to a very serious subject.
The writing style is very very detailed and now and then draws you into the era or into the specific battles and situations. That makes this book besides the stories so extraordinary. Several stories and battles are combined in this book and accompanied by lyrics of marching songs, a recordings of stats of the battles and detailed timetables and lot and lots of places and names. The pace differs a bit per story and not every story is as detailed as the other. Some have more of a nice reading flow in it. Not that the other parts do not have a reading flow, they do have, but you probably get a bit lost in the details. Especially when the military jargon and English – combined – is not your mother tongue.
For my taste it is a bit too detailed for a bit more than general high interested read. I am not a historian nor a soldier nor do I know military strategies or every difference between one troup and another. Who obeys who and what is the difference in outfits or habits or number of soldiers is not my common knowledge. It feels a bit like that kind of knowledge is a bit expected from the reader. An overview of e.g. a map would already help a lot with the different locations as well as a display of a military order for example.
But for who is interested in very detailed amazing memoirs, it is well written! Now and then you jump from one year into another and is it not always perfectly chronological. That’s why I advise to read one story a day and let it sink in and remember the pearl sentences and characteristics of each story. It is about real events and the descriptions are so detailed that it could now and then scare you a bit. Or a bit much. It also contains in the last pages lots and lots of notes and references which is very good because if you want to know more about a certain event you can more specific search for it and then the notes can be helpful. So this book is a real challenge and most of all: it is very, very, yes I have to say it: very detailly realistic!
The score I give to this book is 7 out of 10 stars because for my personal taste it is a bit too detailed, now and then switching chronological which causes confusion and military jargon that is not fully understood so a bit less fun than it could be with more explanation e.g.
Title: Dunkirk to Bilsen – The Soldier’s Own Dramatic Stories
Author: John Sadler
Genre: Biography / History / Memoir
Publisher: Lume Books
Year 1st edition & read edition: 2010 / 2020
Year read: 2020
Original title & language: English
Read language: English
Rating: 7 / 10
I hope you like the book too. It is worth to read it! I am not telling about the stories too much, you have to read the book yourself and make your own opinion. It is a very realistic and challenging book and therefor also very interesting!
Loves from Sophie