editor's choice



We learn about war from an early age. We’re taught about it in our classrooms, read about it in the beautiful, haunting poetry of the war poets – Sassoon, Owen, Jarrell. Yet now social media and our global village world mean our access to war is pretty much immediate and, we are, in many ways, becoming inured to it, to the brutality, the devastation, the destruction, the horror, the loss. How do we check that? The words of those in the thick of it can help. In September 2019, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, the wonderful Imperial War Museum launches new editions of previously published classics, written during or just after the conflict. Among these gems is Alexander Baron’s extremely fine first novel, From the City, From the Plough.

More fact than fiction, the novel draws heavily on Baron’s own experiences of the war, following the men and officers of the fictional Fifth Battalion, Wessex regiment, from their training in England to D-Day and the Normandy campaign. The men come from all walks of life, from the urban to the countryside, and are thrown together to become brothers in arms under the most horrific of circumstances. Baron shows the minutiae and mundanity of everyday life for the soldiers, and officers who lead them, as they try to prepare for what will come.

Through pared back, unflinching prose, Baron introduces us to a cast of characters, warts and all, totally believable in their moments of humour, compassion, love, fear and despair. His men are authentic, people who have made mistakes, have hopes and dreams, and that is what makes the reading of this book all the more poignant as history has already told us what will happen to most of the battalion even before we read Baron’s well-penned words.

From the City, From the Plough is poetic at times, the repetition of phrases and words, and even sentences, giving it a specific rhythm. It’s a beautiful book and quite rightly has been hailed by commentators such as Sir Antony Beever as among the great British novels of the Second World War. I can’t recommend it enough, nor, indeed, the other books in this series; reviews to follow. It’s certainly not an easy read, but it’s an important one; a work that bears witness to the remarkable courage of soldiers whose lives deserve to be remembered, whose actions deserve to honoured, whose quiet acts of heroism changed the course of the modern world, maintaining democracy for so many of us. Such as it is today.


From the City, From the Plough | Alexander Baron | Paperback | £8.99 | Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics  | September  2019 |

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From the City, From the Plough by Alexander Baron. See above. Based on Baron’s own experiences during the Second World War. He was a widely acclaimed author and screenwriter. This was his first novel.




Trial by Battle by David Piper – An authentic depiction of the claustrophobia of jungle warfare in Malaya. Based on Piper’s time serving with the Indian Army in Malaya, where he was captured by the Japanese and spent three years as a POW. Highly acclaimed by William Boyd, VS Naipaul and Frank Kermode, among others. Piper was director of the National Portrait Gallery, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.




Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle – A candid account of SOE operations in occupied Europe. During the Second World War, he was a Special Operations Executive behind enemy lines in Albania. Quayle was a renowned actor and filmmaker.






Plenty Under the Counter by Kathleen Hewitt – A murder mystery about opportunism and the black market set against the backdrop of London during the Blitz.  Hewitt was a British author and playwright who wrote more than 20 novels in her lifetime.





Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Anne Cater, as always, and to the publisher for sending a review copy and jacket image. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:Only Remembered edited by Michael Morpurgo’; ‘Karl Tearney’s healing a “torn mind”‘; ‘Mary Monro’s Stranger in My Heart‘; ‘’Lisa Ko’s The Leavers’; ‘20 books this summer challenge‘; ‘We should all be feminists’; How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original Penguin Ten’; ‘Book covers we love – Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday’.


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.



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