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Peter Crichton
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
To War With A 4th Hussar is a personal memoir by Peter Crichton and published long after his death by his son. They describe his experiences as an armoured Troop Leader fighting in Greece in 1941 and then as a Regimental and Brigade officer in North Africa and early in the campaign in Italy. He then volunteered to work with Tito’s partisans in 1944-45 in (what was then) Yugoslavia, ultimately to return to the UK as a Major after four-and-a-half years abroad and engaged to the daughter of a Swedish diplomat.

The simplest way of explaining how much I enjoyed this book is that I started reading it on Friday evening and I’m writing this review on Sunday afternoon. It was hard to put down and very easy to pick up again! The writer’s style is open and honest and brings to life vividly the horrors of the retreat and evacuation in Greece, the challenges of living and fighting in the desert and the frustrations of working with communist partisans.

The author’s personality shines through every page and incident; he admits to his fears (some of the amphibious tasks around the Balkan islands in little fishing boats are notable for this) and his lack of knowledge about how the rest of the war was going; this is not a book for those interested in strategy!

I knew little of the fighting in Greece apart from the fact that we (ie the British, Australians, New Zealanders and the Greeks) lost, something of the fighting in North Africa and a degree of how the partisans in the Baltics were supported. I found the descriptions of the fighting in Greece to be the most impressive; ranging from the inability of the 4th Hussars to fight the Germans with anything approaching parity (their Mk VI B tanks being light and machine-gun armed against the heavier and better-armed opposition) to the author’s style in staying in one of the best hotels in Greece when working as a liaison officer. This latter event is contrasted by his courage in having to routinely travel in daylight despite marauding Luftwaffe aircraft which were operating almost at will. Crichton’s portrayal of the evacuation from Greece and the effective destruction of the 4th Hussars is clear and, at times, brutal and is all the better for it.

The fighting in North Africa is described in the same simple manner. Life in the desert, and its simplicity, is brought to life well as are some of the difficulties and the brutality of once again fighting a better-equipped enemy. His casual descriptions of the loss of friends and the destruction of the Regiment again (his survival is down to pure good luck) are balanced by descriptions of Regimental life and relationships; the end of his tour as a Brigade staff officer brought a wry smile. His move to working with the partisans, and the simple, personal reason for doing so, are described quickly and cleanly as are his frustrations for working with an ally with a different intent (establishing a Communist state) against a common enemy. Crichton and the other Allied personnel are treated as either honoured guests (by the locals and many of the partisans that they are working with) or with suspicion and hostility (usually by senior partisan officers).

In short, this is an entertaining memoir. The author’s style is quite superb and he wrote with clarity and fluency bringing a fascinating story to life with both candour and a degree of charm.
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