The astounding story told in these pages is of how the country which came victoriously out of the First World War, 'that bloody and ill-managed conflict', with nearly two million soldiers in Belgium and France, a more than adequate industrial backing for them, and a growing habit of victory, at the start of the Second could send there only a thinly-backed 160,000. It is the story primarily of the British Army, but it is presented within a broad framework of references familiar to all who know anything about British inter-war history: 'Locarno', Disarmament, Depression and 'Munich'; Baldwin and Chamberlain, Gandhi and Mussolini, 'Boney' Fuller, Liddell Hart and - though he is hardly welcomed to the feast - 'Colonel Blimp'. It is founded on so much systematic research in Cabinet and War Office papers, let alone other military archives, that it must at once become a prime resource for fellow scholars: yet it is written with so much force, directness, wisdom and wry humour that it would be instructive and agreeable reading for anyone concerned to understand in depth the decline of British power - not least because of its worrying speculation in conclusion, as to whether the country might not now be repeating mistakes made then. It is not a cheering book, but it is a strong and wholesome one, which fortifies Mr Bond's place in the very top rank of the military-historical hierarchy.
LRB 2 July 1981 | PDF Download