The Guardsmen

As a former member of the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards, I have for those of a more serious leaning towards military/political history, produced this review of a marvellous book that should interest you.

‘The Guardsmen’ by Simon Ball ISBN 0-00-257110-2 (

Harold Macmillan, Oliver Lyttleton (later 1st Viscount Chandos), Bobbety Cranbourne (later Lord Salisbury) and Harry Crookshank all arrived at Eton in 1906, all went to Oxford University, all served in the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards on the Western Front during WW1 and all entered the Cabinet under Winston Churchill during WW2. They helped Churchill seize back power from the socialists in 1951 and once more joined his Cabinet, now as senior figures. Macmillan rose to be Prime Minister in 1957. This quartet thus socialised with each other, argued with each other, fought together and climbed the political ladder together for over forty years. ‘From the playing fields of Eton, to the horrors of the Western Front, to the pinnacle of political power’ was not the blurb of a Jeffrey Archer novel but the reality of these men’s lives.

‘Politics is not a flat race, it’s a steeplechase,’ as Churchill once told Macmillan, and these men were friends, colleagues and sometimes enemies as they fought their way up the political ladder, through some of the most pivotal moments of Britain’s twentieth century history – the end of Empire, the beginnings of the Cold War, and the Suez crisis.

Through this biography, Simon Ball presents an extraordinary portrait of ruthless political ambition and intrigue up until Macmillan’s resignation as Prime Minister in 1963. Not only does he expose the political machinations and historical forces which underpinned their alliances and eventual rifts, but he reveals the influences of family, individual character and social rank which were to shape the lives and fortunes of these four fascinating men.

Ball’s book draws on years of original research in many archives, from public records to personal diaries. Lucid, insightful and alive with detail, that presents a gripping account of the workings of politics during the twentieth century. The Guardsmen is a work of consummate scholarship, lightly borne, but above all rendered in prose that is constantly deft and readable. Simon Ball is a historian at the height of his powers.

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