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The Coward series of WWII books


Book Reviewer
Is this the new Flashman?

Coward on the Beach (Dick Coward 1): James Delingpole: Books

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Certainly this reviewer thinks so:
When George MacDonald Fraser died in February 2008, he left behind a huge, Flashman-shaped hole as enthusiasts found themselves bereft of their favourite "scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief, coward, and toady". A vacancy for an unapologetic anti-hero has existed ever since.

One creator of likely replacements, Julian Rathbone, ruled himself out of the running by dying two weeks after Fraser. As for the rest, many historically-based novels are hamstrung by being too much in thrall to an adolescent love of the details of war. They may sometimes be well researched and even on occasion well written, but at heart these books are the grown-up cousins of all the useless, gung ho gulf war porn doing the rounds at the moment.

Where the Flashman books scored so highly was to allow those with a sense of embarrassment at their enthusiasm for all things historical, adventurous and military to have their historical, military adventure flavoured cake and eat it without guilt. This is because the Flashman novels while tremendous, rambunctious fun are also fantastically well-researched picaresque adventures, grand tours of the greatest hits of Victorian military history, written with wit, erudition and a healthy dose of well-honed cynicism and political astuteness. All of which is plenty to inoculate cognoscenti when looked at askance by readers of "serious" books.

Coward On The Beach by James Delingpole is the latest attempt to fill Fraser's boots. It is a WW2 novel pitched roughly at the intersection of Flashman and a Commando comic. As such it is a rip-roaring, in parts surprisingly moving, boys own adventure and an enjoyable if slightly guilty pleasure. Where Harry Flashman is a coward who everyone thinks a hero, Dick Coward is a hero who everyone thinks a coward. They are both picaresque adventurers, both likely to find themselves knee deep in trouble, in the bed of the nearest "filly",or at the heart of momentous events in world history. Sometimes as a close spectator but on other ocassions as an unwilling participant.

Coward On The Beach self-consciously lifts its story of a man proving himself during the Normandy landings directly from a Commando comic, which featured gritty tales of derring do beloved of boys in the 1970s. This is an attempt to create an adult novelisation of an adolescent story, which for the most part works surprisingly well. The setting among the conscript British commandoes, is less a corrective against the Spielberg view of D-Day, and more a modest, pasted together with glue and ingenuity, British version. Although there is none of the overly serious mawkishness of Saving Private Ryan, Coward On The Beach is still at times sentimental, but in an understated British way. Although both share a solid belief in the essential heroism and sacrifice of the stoic, determined amateur soldiers.

The details are well-researched to the point of geekdom by Delingpole, but Coward On The Beach is saved by injections of Flashman-esque self-preservation mistaken for heroism and farce. Such a chaotic mix of the knowing and the naïve brings the landings to life in a way a simple recreation would not. This is D-Day as imagined by David Nobbs.

In the end, as in Flashman, there is a surprising amount of tenderness and for those not averse to shedding a tear at selfless sacrifice these moments may bring a lump or two to the throat. (My own welling up list includes: Beau Geste, Zulu and Two Little Boys - I know what I'm talking about) For others it may be an overly reverential and adolescent portrayal of pointless slaughter.

Coward On The Beach may not be Evelyn Waugh's Sword Of Honour trilogy and truth be told it isn't quite enough to fill the Flashman void, but it is nonetheless solidly entertaining, touching and funny and as such Coward On The Beach will do for the while. While there is no point pretending this will appeal to anyone who doesn't enjoy the reference points of Flashman, Aubrey, Commando, Anthony Beevor and stoic war films, some men of a certain age who miss their 1:72nd scale soldiers, but still consider themselves adults will enjoy Coward On The Beach as the entertaining diversion it is

All I know about the author is that he writes for the Telegraph and I saw a link to the books in his tag line. Apparently he's also written such tomes as, "365 Ways To Drive A Liberal Crazy" and "How to be Right: The Essential Guide to Making Lefty Liberals History".

Can anyone recommend?


I've read the second whilst not having read any of the Flashman series, only listened via audio books they seem comparable, scoundrel ends up coming off in the eyes of others as a good egg.


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
I have read Coward on the Beach and Coward at the Bridge. Very funny and worth a read. No where near the standard or details of GMF's Flashman but of the same ilk.
I've always been surprised that Donald Jack's Bany papers have never received the recognition they deserve. The following is a wikepedia extract:

"The Bandy Papers is a series of novels by British-Canadian author Donald Jack chronicling the exploits of a World War I fighter ace named Bartholomew Wolfe Bandy. Every book in the Bandy Papers series contains the word 'me' in the title as do many of the chapter titles which can also be interpreted as photo captions.

Bandy was born on July 14, 1893. Physically he is described as over 6 feet tall and with a face like a horse. His voice is high pitched and whiney and is said to resemble that of W.C. Fields, whom he once met. This combination seems to drive most people (and many animals) he meets to dislike him and as a result he has developed a 'stone face' to counter these attacks (a defense that often back-fires by inciting his enemies to greater levels of malice). His talents, although well disguised, are real and he has certainly been an influential (though minor) character in history.

Bandy was born and raised in Beamington, Ontario in the Ottawa Valley, where his father was a Minister. From his published papers he seems to have had a difficult time fitting in with his school mates. There is a reference in Me Bandy, You Cissie that he was an invalid for a time during his childhood. He finished school and was at the University of Toronto Medical School when the First World War broke out.

Bandy volunteered for the infantry in 1916 after being kicked out of medical school and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Canadian Army. After spending some time in the trenches, it was decided that the infantry was not entirely suited to his talents and so he was transferred into the Royal Flying Corps, where he stayed on and off for the rest of the war, until being sent to Russia to fight Bolsheviks, where he was captured by Bolshevik forces at the Battle of Toulgas on November 11, 1918. His military career went from the heights of the Air Board to the lows of fighting in a Bicycle Battalion. He left the Air Force in 1920 as a Lieutenant acting Major General!

After the war and his imprisonment in Russia, Bandy had short but illustrious careers in silent films, rum-running and politics. When several of his careers threatened to land him in prison (or worse, Cabinet) Bandy returned to Europe flying via Iceland in an attempt to restore his fortunes through the marketing of The Gander, an amphibious aircraft of his design. His plans came to naught when he lost the Gander during the rescue of a downed aviator in the English Channel. He was forced to seek employment as a lowly hospital porter until being sought out by the rescued aviator, who turned out to be the son of an Indian Maharajah. Offered employment in the Maharajah's air force, Bandy continued his long tradition of upsetting the powers that be by accepting this controversial appointment. This led to him being Knighted but he seldom used his title. It is mentioned that he flew for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War but this is not detailed. In World War II, Bandy again fought against Germany and became re-acquainted with a son from a previous adventure. In the final volume of the series, Bandy faces Germany's top fighter pilot in combat before returning to the Soviet Union for the Yalta conference at the end of the war, where he has to cope with Stalin's paranoia and secret police.

The books are noted for their humour and word play, as well as technical and historic accuracy (except possibly in India)."


Book Reviewer
I bought Coward on the beach in a discount book shop an when i got it home saw that it was autographed. Result as I have quite a few signed books in my library .


Does anyone know why Coward in the Woods has never (apparently) been published? It was due out in March but has never appeared.

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