Andrew Sangster
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
Lord Alan Brooke was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) throughout the majority of WW2. He was Churchill's key military adviser, yet few, outside of the military or academia, have heard of him. Little has been written about him, specifically, previously and historians writing about Churchill and the other military leaders have tended to gloss over his key input. He was an assiduous diary-keeper, recording his innermost thoughts, at the time only for himself and his wife; when those diaries were published years after the war, his decision not to edit out the less favourable comments on, what were now, national icons meant that he developed a reputation as rather embittered and a moaner.

As a Gunner, my first barracks were called Alanbrooke Barracks as Lord Alanbrooke was a Gunner too. I had read other shorter accounts (cf David Fraser's brief history within John Keegan's 'Churchill's Generals') but leapt at the opportunity to review this book.

Sangster has provided us with what, I suspect, will become the definitive account of Alanbrooke's war. He treats him well - always keen to underline the private nature of Alanbrooke's diaries and make the distinction between his public persona and what he wrote in private. This is a key point: this disparity between the public man who had to use tact and logic to convince a hugely varied audience and the private man venting his frustrations should be seen as a balancing act, rather than deviousness.

The book tracks Alanbrooke's career all the way through, understandably focusing on his time as CIGS, but providing a clear account of how he got there through the inter-war years and the early days of WW2. Central to the entire account is Alanbrooke's relationship with Churchill: that the relationship lasted the length of the war (and would have continued if Churchill had been voted back into power in 1945) is testament to the value Churchill felt Alanbrooke provided. It was a tumultuous relationship, largely because Alanbrooke was one of the few people who was able to stand up to Churchill and oppose his wilder plans: Churchill recognised this, and although it clearly angered him at times, he also realised that it was a necessary balance.

My only really criticism of the book is that the editing could have been tighter. On quite a few occasions, there appears to be a repetition of facts and quotes within a few pages and, in other places, the chronology is broken with events played out of order, which interrupts the logical flow. There are also one or two odd remarks that seem to have no grounding or justification for their inclusion (eg "some have claimed New Zealanders are civilised Australians" - who has? why? what relevance does it have?).

All in all, this is a detailed account of one the most important, but least well-known, key inter-personal relationships of WW2. Sangster allows the reader to get behind the diplomatic façade and really understand what made Alanbrooke tick. This book provides some real gold dust on strategic leadership, particularly on how to toe the very fine line between the political grand strategic arena and its supporting military strategy.

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