Today Mandie shares her thoughts on Sword Of Bone by Anthony Rhodes, one of the Imperial War Museums classics collection. Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting us to join the tours and to the publisher for the advance copy of the book. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
It is September 1939. Shortly after war is declared, Anthony Rhodes is sent to France, serving with the British Army. His days are filled with the minutiae and mundanities of Army life – friendships, billeting, administration – as the months of the ‘Phoney War’ quickly pass and the conflict seems a distant prospect.
It is only in the spring of 1940 that the true situation becomes clear; the men are ordered to retreat to the coast and the beaches of Dunkirk, where they face a desperate and terrifying wait for evacuation.
I have to start by saying that if you are looking for a book about the experiences of a soldier during the Second World War that details all the fighting then this will not be the book for you. What you will get is a different perspective on experiences during that time, one that is probably less documented and talked about but just as real.
Sword of Bone is the memoir of Anthony Rhodes who was sent to France in September 1939. His role is to secure billets and deal with admin for the troops as they make their way through France to Belgium. For him there is no fighting, and they are eventually they are ordered to retreat back to Dunkirk where they face real danger for the first time as they await their transport back to England.
There is something about the simplicity and honesty in this book that draw you in. Anthony Rhodes has given an insight to the other side of the war, the things that went on in the background and were maybe not so in your face but to an extent were as equally important as you tend to forget the planning that is required for anything of that scale and in a time where communications were not as quick and easy as they are now. As he details the towns and villages they stay at and pass through and the different personalities he meets. The pacing of the book reflects the pace of the movement towards the front, and you can feel the sense of frustration and the belief that maybe things are not as bad as they were led to believe. With the book originally released in 1942 the phrasing is of the time adding to the experiences. There are little touches of humour as you would expect in a group of men that are spending 24 hrs a day in less than normal circumstances but as you reach those final chapters you can sense their unease as they try to shelter and stay alive.
Having never read a historical memoir before I am grateful to the Imperial War Museum for deciding to bring books like this back to life so that a whole new generation can get to experience the war from a different perspective.
About the Author
Anthony Rhodes (1916–2004) served with the British Army in France during the so-called ‘Phoney War’ and was evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940 – he based the book Sword of Bone on these experiences. In the latter part of the war Rhodes was sent to Canada as a camouflage officer. After the conflict, he enjoyed a long academic and literary career and wrote on various subjects, including covering the 1956 Hungarian Revolution for the Daily Telegraph and producing well-regarded histories of the Vatican.
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