The Western Desert - Keith Douglas and the Sherwood Rangers

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by seaweed, Nov 12, 2010.

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  1. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    There was an hour on Keith Douglas, the author of 'Alamein to Zem Zem' who was wounded at Zem Zem and then kia in Normandy on D+3, on BBC4 last night.

    (BBC iPlayer - Battlefield Poet: Keith Douglas)

    Prematurely abandoning Merton College, Oxford, Douglas was commissioned into the Sherwood Rangers. Their war, and thus his, is amusingly chronicled in 'It Is Bliss Here' by Myles Hildyard. There are only two mentions of Douglas himself in the book though, probably because he was something of an outsider in the pre-war Yeomanry officer huntin' crowd.

    Anyway there is the i-player link, I suppose you have 5 days or so to catch up with it.
  2. JINGO

    JINGO War Hero Book Reviewer

    Great book. I enjoyed the programme it is a sad thing that a man such as that was taken like so many others before he even had a chance to live.
  3. George 'Killer' Dring served with the Sherwood Rangers.
    One of the best, if we had 'Tank Aces' he'd be there!
  4. There are several more books concerning SRY which mention Keith Douglas. E-amil to get a list. Copies of Alamein to Zem Zem by Keith Douglas are usually available second hand on Amazon.

    in 1984 the BBC produced a bookmark program on Keith, no idea if this still exists.

    I think it is true to say that Keith didn't always fit in with the older officers in the regiment [who he describes in his book as "gentle obsolescent heroes", which is, I believe, why he ended up back in Cairo at Divn HQ. I have also been told by two different sources who were present at the time that the Colonel was extremely angry at his unofficial trip that got him killed. As John Semken mildly observed on the programme, Keith wasn't always a reliable team player.
  5. It was a very good programme. We are organising an El Alemein to Tunis tour for those that would like to follow the route to North African Victory - with a few stops at Halafaya Pass, Bardia, Tobruk Gazala etc.
  6. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

  7. We managed to find the spot where the padre, Leslie Skinner, buried Keith Douglas in a crater, up against a hedgrerow overlooking St Pierre and Tilly-sur-Seulles. The crater is still there, though Keith Douglas has long-since been moved to Tilly-sur-Seulles Cemetery. It was quite a moving experience sitting there at sunset, reading one of his poems.
  8. Stuart Hills book; By Tank into Normandy, gives some good background to Douglas and his death.

    Brilliant book in any case and well worth a read, DD tank on D-Day and beyond.
  9. Seconded - one of the best WW2 memoirs. I'd also recommend Leslie Skinner's 'The Man Who Worked on Sundays' - it's a very powerful book and a real eye-opener as to what a regimental chaplain has to do in war. The author would often work alone, recovering the bodies of burned-up crewmen from tanks and burying them himself, as he didn't want the crewmen seeing what happened to their comrades inside a burning Sherman. On one occasion he was working with French people to bury a complete tank crew in the local churchyard; he heard a tank drive up and shut down its engine. When he'd finished the burial service, he looked up and there was a German Panther, with crew standing to attention; they then saluted, got back into their tank and drove off.
  10. I can't even begin to comprehend what doing that must do for one's sanity in later life. The impact of having to retrieve and bury so many young men hideously destroyed would have to be profound and lasting.
  11. I agree - I can think of few things worse. What's even more incredible is that he often did it ALONE! He very rarely had an orderly with him. How on earth did he do it?! I'd thoroughly recommend getting hold of this profoundly moving - and shocking - book.

    At Bayeux Cathedral last year, during the 65th Anniversary, with Prince Charles, Sarkozy and Brown in attendance, the Chaplain of the Normandy Veterans' Association used Leslie Skinner's book as the core of his lesson. It was nice to know that someone else has read it! :)
  12. The Sherman was known as the Ronson with good reason, often all that was required was bucket.
  13. I have been a long-standing admirer of Keith Douglas, ever since happening upon Alamein to Zem-Zem some years ago. His portrayal of the officers of the Sherwood Rangers - notably 'Piccadilly Jim' - and the pre-war Yeomanry 'types' they represented I found fascinating, yet also sad.
  14. I had the privilege of meeting Padre Skinner a number of times in the 1990's, he appeared a very balanced normal person, one of those who just radiated calm and happiness around him.
  15. I am, for one, delighted to hear that as so many who have had to face such horrors have suffered in their later years.