Trial by Battle by David Piper

Today I hand the blog over to Mandie, who has a review of Trial By Battle by David Piper. This is part of a series of books published by The Imperial War Museum and we’d like to thank Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for including us in the tour. Here’s what the book is all about:

Source: Review Copy

About The Book

October 1941. Twenty-one-year-old Alan Mart is posted to India and taken under the wing of the dogmatic, overbearing Acting-Captain Sam Holl. Following the Japanese advance on Singapore, the men are deployed to Malaya. What follows is a quietly shattering and searingly authentic depiction of the claustrophobia of jungle warfare and the indiscriminate nature of conflict.

Based on David Piper s own wartime experience in South East Asia, this new edition of a 1959 classic includes a contextual introduction from IWM which sheds new light on the dramatic true events that so influenced its author.

Available from: Amazon | Waterstones

Mandie’s Thoughts

When I was given the chance to read and review a book from the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classic Collection, I was happy to help. Trial By Battle was originally released in 1959 and is based on the authors own experiences in South East Asia between 1941 & 1942.

Although this is a work of fiction you certainly get the feeling of the reality of what soldiers faced during WW2. The author has certainly not held back on the reality of war. Although it is slow to start as the main characters and settings are established, you still find that you are drawn to them and their story. The book shows that despite training, the soldiers were not really prepared for what lay ahead as they followed the orders they were given. Despite the subject matter there was also a real sense of camaraderie between Second-Lieutenant Alan Mart and Lieutenant, Acting Captain Sam Holl and even Alan and his orderly Sundar Singh, who refused to leave Alan’s side no matter what.

Despite all the books available regarding WW2, I have never really read anything regarding the battles against the Japanese in Malaya and I now wonder what else is out there that I have missed out on. There is a fascinating introduction in this re print that helps give the reader an understanding of what the book is about. This is only a short book of 160 pages, yet you come away feeling like you have read something that is much longer due to the descriptive writing of the author.

If you are a fan of wartime fiction, then I would heartily recommend this book as I absolutely loved it. If there is one thing that may put people off this book it will be the size of the print. If you have issues with your eyesight, then you may struggle. I wear glasses and even I had the occasional moment where I was unable to read further. Unfortunately, the book is only currently available in print format but hopefully it will be available in either Kindle or audiobook format in the future so that more people can experience the wonderful writing of David Piper for themselves.

About the Author

David Piper was best known as director of the National Portrait Gallery, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The novel is based on his time serving with the Indian Army in Malaya where he was captured by the Japanese and spent three years as a POW. His son, Tom Piper, was the designer of the hugely successful Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London to commemorate the First World War Centenary.

Follow the tour:

About the Series

In September 2019, to mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, IWM will launch a wonderful new series with four novels from their archives all set during the Second World War – Imperial War Museums Wartime Classics. Originally published to considerable acclaim, these titles were written either during or just after the Second World War and are currently out of print.

Each novel is written directly from the author’s own experience and takes the reader right into the heart of the conflict. They all capture the awful absurdity of war and the trauma and chaos of battle as well as some of the fierce loyalties and black humour that can emerge in extraordinary circumstances. Living through a time of great upheaval, as we are today, each wartime story brings the reality of war alive in a vivid and profoundly moving way and is a timely reminder of what the previous generations experienced.

The remarkable IWM Library has an outstanding literary collection and was an integral part of Imperial War Museums from its very beginnings. Alan Jeffreys, (Senior Curator, Second World War, Imperial War Museums) searched the library collection to come up with these four launch titles, all of which deserve a new and wider audience. He has written an introduction to each novel that sets them in context and gives the wider historical background and says, ‘Researching the Wartime Classics has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my years at IWM. It’s been very exciting rediscovering these fantastic novels and helping to bring them to the wider readership they so deserve’.

Each story speaks strongly to IWM’s remit to tell the stories of those who experienced conflict first hand. They cover diverse fronts and topics – preparations for D-Day and the advance into Normandy; the war in Malaya; London during the Blitz and SOE operations in occupied Europe and each author – three men and a woman – all have fascinating back stories. These are Second World War novels about the truth of war written by those who were actually there.

The four titles are:

From the City, From the Plough by Alexander Baron – A vivid and moving account of preparations for D- Day and the advance into Normandy. Published in the 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings, this is based on the author’s first-hand experience of D-Day and has been described by Antony Beevor as ‘undoubtedly one of the very greatest British novels of the Second World War.’

Trial by Battle by David Piper – A quietly shattering and searingly authentic depiction of the claustrophobia of jungle warfare in Malaya described by William Boyd as ‘A tremendous rediscovery of a brilliant novel. Extremely well-written, its effects are both sophisticated and visceral. Remarkable’, and VS Naipaul as ‘one of the most absorbing and painful books about jungle warfare that I have read’ and by Frank Kermode as ‘probably the best English novel to come out of the Second World War.’

Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle – A candid account of SOE operations in occupied Europe described by Andrew Roberts as ‘As well as being one of our greatest actors, Anthony Quayle was an intrepid war hero and his autobiographical novel is one of the greatest adventure stories of the Second World War. Beautifully written and full of pathos and authenticity, it brings alive the terrible moral decisions that have to be taken by soldiers under unimaginable pressures in wartime.’

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. ‘With a dead body on the first page and a debonair RAF pilot as the sleuth, this stylish whodunit takes you straight back to Blitzed London and murder most foul. Several plausible suspects, a femme fatale, witty dialogue, memorable scenes and unexpected twists – it boasts everything a great whodunit should have, and more. Andrew Roberts.

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