David Twiston Davies’s latest, highly entertaining collection of 100 Daily Telegraph military obituaries from the last sixteen years includes those celebrated for their great heroism and involvement in major operations. Others have extraordinary stories barely remembered even by their families. Those featured include Private Harry Patch, the last survivor of those who went ‘over the top’ on the Western Front in 1917 and Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Wilson of the Somaliland Camel Corps who learned he had been awarded a posthumous VC in a prison camp. Colonel Clive Fairweather, who organised the SAS attack on the terrorists who seized the Iranian embassy in London in 1980, also features.
The Canadian Sergeant Smoky Smith won the VC in Italy but was locked up to ensure he would be sober to receive it at Buckingham Palace; Obergefreiter Henry Metellman was a Panzer driver who, brutally frank about his Eastern Front experiences, later became a groundsman at Charterhouse School. Penny Phillips was an ambulance driver caught up in the retreat from the Germans in 1940.
The Italian, Amedeo Guillet, led the last cavalry charge against the British; Australian General Sir Frank Hassett commanded a textbook operation at Maryang San in Korea; and Lieutenant-Colonel David Garforth Bles was pig-sticking in India when a comrade suddenly disappeared only to be found at the bottom of an enormous well accompanied by his horse with a pig trying to bite both of them.
As Andrew Roberts wrote of the first collection: ‘They evoke swirling, profound, even guilty emotions… To those Britons who have known only peace, these are thought provoking and humbling essays in valour.’