Anniversaries, war and diaries #Arachne5

As part of our Arachne 5th Anniversary celebrations, we’ve asked all of our authors to come up with a blog, that might have something to do with writing or anniversaries. Some of them responded! This one is from Jill Sharp whose poems we published in The Other Side of Sleep and Shortest Day, Longest Night.

August 17th 1944

‘There are moments when I would give anything just to get into a car and drive home, saying I was fed up with the whole show and they could look for someone else to fill my job. The making of plans is child’s play as compared with putting them into execution.’

 

It may be the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, but for me it’s been a summer of war, reading the edited WWII diaries of Alan Brooke. Brooke masterminded the very tricky retreat of the British Expeditionary Force to Dunkirk, and then oversaw Home Defence during 1940 when a Nazi invasion seemed imminent. For the last four and a half years of the war, he was at Churchill’s right hand day and (often) night, advising on military strategy as Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

The diary was written as a daily note to his wife back in Hampshire, about events at the decision-making hub in London, and became a safety-valve for a man experiencing almost unbearable stress and responsibility. Reading it, you’re closer to the uncertainty, fear and anxiety of the lived experience than any detached historical account can provide. It demonstrates the value of an immediate record, both as a historical source and also as an insight into the individual human psyche during momentous events.

I’ve been deeply impressed by Brooke – a man who managed to negotiate tricky human situations as well as military ones. It was a revelation to me how much skill was needed to steer Churchill and our American allies, let alone to devise overall military strategy.

Because the US had the greater number of allied forces in 1944, Brooke was passed over as Commander of Overlord in favour of Eisenhower. In his diary, he expresses deep frustration and concern at the American general’s often hesitant strategy, feeling the war in Europe could and should have been concluded that autumn, with a very different outcome for the political map of Europe.

March 5th 1945

‘Breakfast with Ike and another long talk with him. There is no doubt that he is a most attractive personality and, at the same time, a very, very limited brain from a strategic point of view… He only sees the worst side of Monty and cannot appreciate the better side… I see trouble ahead before too long.’

Brooke may have received all the official honours due to him, becoming Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke. But this modest man, whose name, I feel, should stand as high as Nelson’s in our national consciousness, had to sell his beloved collection of bird books after the war, when his military pension was insufficient to support his family.

I’m grateful that Brooke finally agreed to make public what is a very private and personal document. So many similar texts are destroyed by their authors, out of consideration for their own reputations as well as others’. But what a unique form of writing a diary is, when it’s done with such non-self-regarding honesty.

Come to the 5th anniversary party!

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