Saturday, May 19, 2018


Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory
© 2017 Michael Korda
544 pages

Judging by most World War 2 histories, the war only heats up once Hitler's rapid takeover of northern and western Europe is accomplished in the spring of 1940, and England is left facing a continent controlled by two execrable men and Mussolini.  The fall of the low countries and the fighting retreat of the Allied army happen so quickly that they're dispatched almost as a prologue to the greater drama. Alone takes that prologue as its subject, opening at Munich and moving quickly to the invasion of Poland and the state of war which followed.  Readers witness stiff desire not to fight again quickly replaced by a mixture of chivalrous indignation and less chivalrous resignation, as England again dispatches her army to Europe to check the German advance, standing alongside the even more resigned French. Here too are chronicled the desperate struggles by the Dutch and Belgian armies, who though colossally outmatched, refuse to yield .  The finish, of course, is the  great drama of Dunkirk, where the men of the British expeditionary force are surrounded by  the German advance, but escape to safety by means of a fleet of civilian ships, a brilliant of example of England expecting every man to do his duty -- even men out of uniform.  Korda notes that the triumphant escape of Dunkirk sometimes overshadows the sheer awfulness of getting there and enduring it: some regiments lost as many as two-thirds of their men, and the beach itself was a spectacle from Dante, filled with burning debris, scattered bodies, and the stench of both.  Alone is a personal history as well,  as a very young Michael Korda was just old enough to realize  something bad was happening; the Korda family's involvement in British and later American film industry adds an interesting flair to a more familiar subject.   Korda  strikes a good balance between narrative and detail, and includes a generous amount of in-text illustrations of personalities and movements. 


To end, a quote from one of Churchill's addresses:

"...and I made it perfectly clear then that whatever happened in France would make no difference to the resolve of Britain and the British Empire to fight on, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be."


  1. Excellent. I shall pick this up the second it's available in paperback. As I've said before this is just about my favourite part of the war - from the attack on Poland to the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were desperate dark hours full of stirring heroism.

    I have 3-4 books on Dunkirk in various piles waiting to be read including the famous Lord book. 'Wings Like Eagles' has made it into my 'read soon' pile so will be reviewed at some point in the next 6 weeks. Oh, and I loved the movie 'Darkest Hour'... and the Nolan 'Dunkirk' too....

    1. Dunkirk was incredible -- it was the first movie I ever watched on my new blu-ray player. I'd hoped to watch it and Darkest Hour together, but the timing didn't work out quite the way I figured. What did you think of Oldman's Churchill performance? He seemed older than I usually imagine Churchill -- I know he wasn't a spring chicken in '40, but Oldman seemed to be portraying a man in his mid-70s instead of his mid-60s..

    2. Dunkirk took a little while to get my head around - because of the triple timeline thing - but once I settled that I was entranced. It brought a decided lump to my throat a few times.

      I thought Oldman's portrayal of Churchill to be totally outstanding. I loved the way he was played as a human being rather than as an icon. The acting throughout was often excellent. I loved his relationship both with his wife and with the King. Again totally entranced by it all. Looking forward to reading the book that prompted the film (naturally!).

    3. No dissent there, on either count. When I realized what they were doing with the timelines I was very much impressed.

  2. I am also embarrassed to say I know almost nothing about Dunkirk except the very basic of facts. Guess this is going on my TBR ;)


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