- Rob Lofthouse
The first book/section has young Stokes going into action for the first time as part of Op Deadstick, the coup de main against the bridges over the Caen Canal. The author captures the terrifying crash that the glider landings were and the confusion that surrounded the few moments immediately after the landing. Stokes is the section Bren gunner so is very quickly in action. The author has used actual events yet changed the names, so we have the first soldier killed by drowning on landing and the first officer killed as he crosses the bridge. The story then covers the first 24 hours or so before slipping into the infantry role that the airborne units took up once the beachhead had been established. After several weeks the unit is withdrawn to UK for rest and rebuilding. Stokes gets some leave and a sub-plot then drops in of trouble at home.
The second book moves on a few weeks to the beginning of September with Stokes now part of the Defence Platoon for HQ 1st Airborne and heading towards the battlefields of Arnhem. Once again, the feeling of being rushed, the confusion of a glider landing and the surprise at the strength and quality of the German opposition, which was not expected comes over very well in the book. Becoming detached from HQ 1Abn Stokes finds himself fighting with 10 Para as they find they can’t fight into Arnhem and withdraw into the Oosterbeek perimeter. Once there he is returned to the Defence Platoon only to be almost immediately sent to take a message to Lt Col Frost at the Bridge, which he succeeds in doing. Going through the German positions through the night they reach the bridge and the remains of the Battalion. Staying with and fighting with 2 PARA until night falls again, Stokes is sent with a message from Colonel Frost “Out of ammunition. God Save the King”, which in actual fact was radioed out by Tatham-Warter, but shows the good research and keeping to the story that the author has done. Trying tom return to HQ 1Abn is more difficult than going in as the Germans have tightened the perimeter, so Stokes and his mate slip into the river to try and bypass them. The current takes them over the river though and he is hauled out by someone from 30 Corps who tell him the Division is being withdrawn. This more of less ends the second book but the sub-plot from book one is carried on and finished off.
The last book sees Stokes moving up to the fighting during the battle of the Bulge which 2 Ox and Bucks Li did do in 1944/45, strengthening the line holding the Germans. Stokes has been promoted to Corporal and Section Commander but in a different Company. His Section are not that pleased on having someone dropped in on them, especially as one of them thought he would get the job himself. The author covers this very well and is a situation that many have found themselves in. The bulk of the final book though is about the drop into Germany as part of the Rhine Crossing operations. 2nd Ox & Bucks are once again glider borne and the description of the landing is very graphic and well done. The sound of the wheels being ripped off, followed by the glider breaking up on impact – almost as though the author had been there himself. The re-org after landing dealing with the airborne perennial, wrong LZ, sees Cpl Stokes tagging on to his original Company and fighting their way through to the objective, then holding until relieved. Yet again, very well researched and well written with the battle scenes coming to life off the page. The latter part of this book takes the Battalion through to the end of the war and Stokes wondering what he is going to do with his life – army or civvy street? By this time he is platoon sergeant but as there are few officers left, virtually platoon commander. Coming up against boys of the Hitler Youth is a shock to the attacking troops but they soon find out that they have to be dealt with just as much as adult soldiers. Movement forward becomes more a matter of tens of kilometres rather than tens of metres with units leapfrogging themselves. They visit Belsen in the passing and Stokes’s feelings against the Germans are reinforced but he soon comes to realise that not all Germans were Nazis. On 8th May 1945 the 2nd Bn Ox & Bucks were told to make safe their weapons and were paraded in the town they had recently taken, Bad Kleinen, where they were told officially by their Brigadier that the war was over. No cheering, just a loud gasp and sigh with some of the hardest troops letting the tears flow – the war was over for Sergeant Robbie Stokes.
This has been a very enjoyable book, so well researched and written that it is hard to put down. Three major operations described and actual events and people used in the story to explain the battles going on around. I thoroughly enjoyed this and recommend it to anyone with an interest in airborne operations in NW Europe in 1944-45. This may be a novel but reads like one man’s diaries from that time.
4.5 out of 5 for an excellent book.