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From the City, From the Plough (Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics)

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Battle has its own strange chemistry. The courage and endurance of a group of men is greater than the sum total of the courage and endurance of the individuals in the group; for, when most of the group have reached the limits of human endeavour, there is always one among them who can surpass those limits, who will hold the others together and drive them on. It is not the r Battle has its own strange chemistry. The courage and endurance of a group of men is greater than the sum total of the courage and endurance of the individuals in the group; for, when most of the group have reached the limits of human endeavour, there is always one among them who can surpass those limits, who will hold the others together and drive them on. It is not the romantic picture of war; but it is the truth of war. In January 1944, on the south coast of England, the Fifth Battalion, Wessex Regiment, wait patiently and nervously for the order to embark. There is boredom and fear, comedy and pathos as the men—all drawn from different walks of life—await the order to move. With an economy of language that belies its emotional impact, From the City, From the Plough is a vivid, unflinching account of the fate of these men as they embark for Normandy and advance into France, where the battalion suffers devastating casualties.


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Battle has its own strange chemistry. The courage and endurance of a group of men is greater than the sum total of the courage and endurance of the individuals in the group; for, when most of the group have reached the limits of human endeavour, there is always one among them who can surpass those limits, who will hold the others together and drive them on. It is not the r Battle has its own strange chemistry. The courage and endurance of a group of men is greater than the sum total of the courage and endurance of the individuals in the group; for, when most of the group have reached the limits of human endeavour, there is always one among them who can surpass those limits, who will hold the others together and drive them on. It is not the romantic picture of war; but it is the truth of war. In January 1944, on the south coast of England, the Fifth Battalion, Wessex Regiment, wait patiently and nervously for the order to embark. There is boredom and fear, comedy and pathos as the men—all drawn from different walks of life—await the order to move. With an economy of language that belies its emotional impact, From the City, From the Plough is a vivid, unflinching account of the fate of these men as they embark for Normandy and advance into France, where the battalion suffers devastating casualties.

30 review for From the City, From the Plough (Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This is a forgotten war novel with a rather naff title. Published in 1948, it sold over a million copies and was hailed as a masterpiece on both sides of the Atlantic. It is the story of the 5th battalion, the Wessex regiment (based on the actual 5th Wiltshire regiment), which took men from rural Somerset and the east end of London (hence the title). The novel follows the men of the fifth from the waiting and preparation for D-Day, across the channel and into France, culminating in the taking of This is a forgotten war novel with a rather naff title. Published in 1948, it sold over a million copies and was hailed as a masterpiece on both sides of the Atlantic. It is the story of the 5th battalion, the Wessex regiment (based on the actual 5th Wiltshire regiment), which took men from rural Somerset and the east end of London (hence the title). The novel follows the men of the fifth from the waiting and preparation for D-Day, across the channel and into France, culminating in the taking of a hill called Pincon. Baron had been in the Young Communist League in the 30s and had been active in the East End opposing Mosley’s Blackshirts. He broke with the communists following Hitler’s pact with Stalin, but remained left wing. Baron wrote from his own experience. He was a sapper in the Pioneer Corps (being too short-sighted to be trusted with a rifle). The Sappers were first on the beaches on D-Day where they cleared barbed wire and dug up mines to allow the main force through. He never rose above the rank of corporal and one of the characters is based on him. I think this is one of the best war novels I have read; better than For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms (maybe not as well written). At the time it was compared favourably with All Quiet on the Western Front. So why has it been forgotten? Much of the history of the Second World War in literature and film is about the heroic; great escapes, the few, tales of bravery and great victories. This book is not like that, nor is it the satire of Catch 22 and its ilk. It is the simply told story of how ordinary men reacted to war and what they felt.. His characters are balanced, not all the officers are fools and tyrants and the men are not working class heroes. Those who act with heroism are not predictable; sometimes they are the characters who are the least likeable. There is humour and humanity, but the messiness and brutality of war is starkly portrayed. Baron uses the contrast with the natural landscape in June and July to great effect and some of the passages are heart wrenching. Underlying it all is a deep fury and the last chapter ranks as one of the most powerful pieces of writing I have come across.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    A Second World War and English equivalent to “All Quiet on the Western Front” - widely heralded on its publication in 1948 as an authentic take in the war and welcome anecdote to the Commando/special forces and prison-camp escape novels already dominating the war publishing industry (astonishing that so little has changed), this quietly powerful novel deserves to be much better known. I particularly found interesting the wartime role of the Home battalions.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Huw Rhys

    If you've read "From Here to Eternity" (1951) - or seen the later film version - seen "The Longest Day" (1962), "Band of Brothers" (2001) or "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) - or read the other books by Stephen Ambrose, Cornelius Ryan and a host of others, then some of the content of this book will at least be familiar to you in a historical context. It has strong elements of "Platoon", "Hamburger Hill" and many other late 20th century works depicting man at war. What may surprise you when reading t If you've read "From Here to Eternity" (1951) - or seen the later film version - seen "The Longest Day" (1962), "Band of Brothers" (2001) or "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) - or read the other books by Stephen Ambrose, Cornelius Ryan and a host of others, then some of the content of this book will at least be familiar to you in a historical context. It has strong elements of "Platoon", "Hamburger Hill" and many other late 20th century works depicting man at war. What may surprise you when reading this book is that it actually pre-dates all these other works - it was written in 1948 - and you can't help but think that it must have inspired at least some elements of these later "definitive" works. Because this little book tops them all. It's the semi fictitious tale of the semi fictitious 5th Battalion of the Wessex Regiment of the events leading up to and following D Day in June 1944. The author actually witnessed most of the events depicted in the book, and although most of them have minor details changed, the gist of every bit of this book is based on the harsh realities that the author himself experienced in France in 1944. It almost has a feel of a dozen different peoples' diaries about it - the scene and the narrative viewpoint jump quite dramatically from paragraph to paragraph at times, and it takes the reader a while to adjust to the frenetic pace of change. What this sort of style of presentation allows though are a series of vignettes - sometimes quite leisurely and relaxed, and at other times taut, fleeting and highly impactful. As a result, it takes a while to recognize all the various characters in the book, and you find yourself re-reading earlier bits all the time to try and see if there is continuity between scenes. There isn't always - but this doesn't detract from the piece at all. Through all the trials and tribulations of the ensemble leading up to June 6th, and the attritional horrors they suffer after that fateful date, the action is unrelenting, and when you finish this short book you almost feel as if you've been dragged through the Normandy hedges yourself. It's a very powerful book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Wulfsohn

    Quite simply one of the best war novels I have ever read . Every character, every scene rings true. There are no special forces or submarines or tales of derring-do here , just very ordinary men doing an awful job. And an ordinary British infantry battalion, whose character and characters we have both come to know and care about, being cut to pieces in the bocage of Normandy .

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This out-of-print masterpiece is one of the best "average soldier" novels I've ever read. Alexander Baron served as an infantryman in World War II, and his book chronicles a division that was made up of men from London and Manchester, combined with farm boys from Wessex. About two thirds of the novel takes place in their training camp sitting above the Atlantic, as the unit prepares for D Day. There we get to know many of the men -- Charlie, the wily London veteran who seems to desert the army bu This out-of-print masterpiece is one of the best "average soldier" novels I've ever read. Alexander Baron served as an infantryman in World War II, and his book chronicles a division that was made up of men from London and Manchester, combined with farm boys from Wessex. About two thirds of the novel takes place in their training camp sitting above the Atlantic, as the unit prepares for D Day. There we get to know many of the men -- Charlie, the wily London veteran who seems to desert the army but then comes sauntering back in just before the invasion; Lt. Col. Pothecary, the gruff and kindly commander, who is paired with the aristocratic, sardonic Major Dawson; the farm lads, including one young man who is thrilled to go to a local farm and work all evening after an entire day of training, just to learn new scientific agriculture methods from the owner; the brutal Major Maddison, a closeted taskmaster who puts others in danger along with himself; Alfie Bradley, pathologically shy, who finally finds someone to love right before shipping out; and dozens of others. The concise novel then takes you with the unit through the Normandy Beach landing and into the increasingly heinous fighting in the woodlands and fields of France. As the push toward Germany progresses, you get a real sense of the terror and boredom for everyday soldiers, digging slit trenches to ride out heavy cannon and airplane bombardments, fighting against increasingly desperate German snipers in small, shattered villages, and finally assaulting a hilltop that proves as deadly as it is questionable as a military objective. We sometimes forget how devastating World War II fighting could be. A historian's afternote says the unit this novel was based on started out with about 480 soldiers on D Day, and by the time their deadly assault on Mt. Pincon was finished a couple months later, there were 63 survivors. In straightforward, unadorned language, Baron brings to life the preparation, the terror and the bone-crushing weariness of war. An honest and profound novel.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lel Budge

    https://orlando-books.blog/ This review relates to From The City, From The Plough by Alexander Baron. This is a fictional tale of the D-Day landings, but based on Alexander Baron’s own experiences. It tells of the Fifth Battalion, Wessex regiment, from the perspectives of both the officers and the soldiers. These men are from different backgrounds, city dwellers and farmers and everything in between. There are men who relish the thought of war and those who just want it all over, so they can return https://orlando-books.blog/ This review relates to From The City, From The Plough by Alexander Baron. This is a fictional tale of the D-Day landings, but based on Alexander Baron’s own experiences. It tells of the Fifth Battalion, Wessex regiment, from the perspectives of both the officers and the soldiers. These men are from different backgrounds, city dwellers and farmers and everything in between. There are men who relish the thought of war and those who just want it all over, so they can return to a ‘normal’ life…..their wives and family. From the constant training before being posted to the extremes of boredom and fear, fatigue and death during the many, many battles. The day to day bravery of these men cannot be underestimated what they did, saw and experienced is something so difficult to imagine these days. The characters are so well described, from mad Major Maddison to Tom Smith you will be emotionally attached to these men (some more than others though) and willing them to survive the horrors of war…… I’ve not read anything that captures the human effects of war since I read Dispatches by Michael Herr. An absolute masterpiece. Thank you to Anne Cater and Random Things Tours for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour and for the promotional materials and a free copy of the book. This is my honest, unbiased review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Wai Zin

    This is a story of ordinary men in a humble British battalion, 5th battalion Wessex Regiment, during WWII. Some are wily resourceful city boys, some are robust, dependable country men, some are hardened veterans brought in to stiffen the green battalion. The book flow sedately in the beginning, bringing me along and let me see with my own eyes, their constant trainings, camp life and escapades. I can also feel their boredom and impatience to close in with the enemy and get on with their life. The This is a story of ordinary men in a humble British battalion, 5th battalion Wessex Regiment, during WWII. Some are wily resourceful city boys, some are robust, dependable country men, some are hardened veterans brought in to stiffen the green battalion. The book flow sedately in the beginning, bringing me along and let me see with my own eyes, their constant trainings, camp life and escapades. I can also feel their boredom and impatience to close in with the enemy and get on with their life. The pace quicken after 5th battalion landed in Normandy. Even though it lacks bloods and gores and vivid explosions as depicted in modern war films, I can still feel the exhaustions and fears of a battlefield. I bit my lips as I read the successive chain of command steeled their hearts and gave the orders they know they are sending their men to their dooms. And the final chapter broke my heart into pieces.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Wai Zin

    This is a story of ordinary men in a humble British battalion, 5th battalion Wessex Regiment, during WWII. Some are wily resourceful city boys, some are robust, dependable country men, some are hardened veterans brought in to stiffen the green battalion. The book flow sedately in the beginning, bringing me along and let me see with my own eyes, their constant trainings, camp life and escapades. I can also feel their boredom and impatience to close in with the enemy and get on with their life. The This is a story of ordinary men in a humble British battalion, 5th battalion Wessex Regiment, during WWII. Some are wily resourceful city boys, some are robust, dependable country men, some are hardened veterans brought in to stiffen the green battalion. The book flow sedately in the beginning, bringing me along and let me see with my own eyes, their constant trainings, camp life and escapades. I can also feel their boredom and impatience to close in with the enemy and get on with their life. The pace quicken after 5th battalion landed in Normandy. Even though it lacks bloods and gores and vivid explosions as depicted in modern war films, I can still feel the exhaustions and fears of a battlefield. I bit my lips as I read, the successive chain of command steeled their hearts and gave the orders they know they are sending their men to their dooms. And the final chapter broke my heart into pieces.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kate Yates

    Essential reading for anyone wanting an insight into WWII soldiering! This is a fictional account of the lives of soldiers in the lead up to the D-Day landings and subsequent battles based on personal experiences of the author.

  10. 5 out of 5

    David Prestidge

    This 1948 best seller echoes Alexander Baron’s own military career as it follows a battalion of a fictional infantry brigade as they prepare for – and then take part in – D Day in the summer of 1944. The Fifth Wessex is, as the book’s title suggests, made up of a mixture of clumsy red-cheeked farm boys from the chalk uplands, well-read introverts who keep themselves to themselves, streetwise chancers and bewildered lads who are virgins in both bedroom and battlefield. They could be soldiers from This 1948 best seller echoes Alexander Baron’s own military career as it follows a battalion of a fictional infantry brigade as they prepare for – and then take part in – D Day in the summer of 1944. The Fifth Wessex is, as the book’s title suggests, made up of a mixture of clumsy red-cheeked farm boys from the chalk uplands, well-read introverts who keep themselves to themselves, streetwise chancers and bewildered lads who are virgins in both bedroom and battlefield. They could be soldiers from earlier wars, and their ancestors might have known Agincourt, Marston Moor, Malplaquet, Talavera, Spion Kop and Arras. Baron has no time for the thinly veiled homo-eroticism of some of the Great War writers. His men can be uncouth, foul-mouthed, brutalised by their social background, yet given to moments of great compassion and charity. The British officer class have been long the object of scorn in both poetry and prose, but Baron deals with them in a largely sympathetic way. Those leading the Fifth on the ground are decent fellows; people who are only too aware of the frequently uneven struggle between shards of steel and the breasts of brave men. Even the Brigadier, whose plans prove so costly, is well aware of what he asks. He is, however, resolute in the way he shuts down his personal qualms in order to maintain the integrity of the battle plan. The one exception is the odious Major Maddison, a cold and sexually troubled narcissist whose demise is as satisfying as it is inevitable. It is worth comparing From The City, From The Plough to another deeply moving novel of men at war, Covenant With Death, (1961) by John Harris. Both deal at length with preparation for an assault; both conclude with the devastating outcome. In Harris’s book the ‘band of brothers’ is a thinly fictionalised Pals Battalion from a northern city. Their Gehenna is the morning of July 1st 1916 and if it is just as brutal as the fate of the Fifth Wessex, it is perhaps more shocking for its suddenness. Harris concludes his book with the words; “Two years in the making. Ten minutes in the destroying. That was our story.” Baron writes lyrically about the midsummer grace of the French countryside, its orchards and abundance of wild flowers, some of which grace the helmets and tunics of the passing soldiers, their fragility which will contrast cruelly with the total vulnerability of the crumpled and shattered bodies of the men who wore them. For the driven and exhausted men of the Fifth Wessex, unlike their fathers before them, there is always a new unspoiled hillside, a grove of trees untouched by shellfire, a fresh sunken lane lined with roses and willow herb. For the war in Normandy is a war of movement. A field reeking with the blood of dead horses and cattle is soon left behind, as the Brigadier stabs his finger at the map and finds another bridge, another crossroads and another copse that must be taken. The heroes in From The City, From The Plough come in all shapes and sizes, but there are no winners. Let Alexander Baron (right) have the last word. “Among the rubble, beneath the smoking ruins, the dead of the Fifth Battalion sprawled around the guns they had silenced; dusty, crumpled and utterly without dignity; a pair of boots protruding from a roadside ditch; a body blackened and bent like a chicken burnt in the stove; a face pressed into the dirt; a hand reaching up out of a mass of brick and timbers; a rump thrust ludicrously towards the sky. The living lay among them, speechless, exhausted, beyond grief or triumph, drawing at broken cigarettes and watching with sunken eyes the tanks go by.”

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This is an authentic reading experience that recalls the fate of a battalion of men in a war. The fictional Fifth Battalion, Wessex Regiment is a remarkable one; at a significant point in the Second World War this large group of men is drawn together from several groups. Those “from the plough”, from the farming communities, want nothing more than to help at local farms while the Battalion waits to go into action, then to ultimately return to their fields. There is a group of men who rule the ga This is an authentic reading experience that recalls the fate of a battalion of men in a war. The fictional Fifth Battalion, Wessex Regiment is a remarkable one; at a significant point in the Second World War this large group of men is drawn together from several groups. Those “from the plough”, from the farming communities, want nothing more than to help at local farms while the Battalion waits to go into action, then to ultimately return to their fields. There is a group of men who rule the gambling, mainly on the dog tracks, and have worked out how to get anything they want, food, leave and all the other perks which make army life bearable. There is another group of war hardened veterans brought in, with all the cynicism of experience in another theatre of war. The picture of this ill assorted group of men, idle in the sunshine of early summer 1944, or training hard for unknown challenges, shows the effects of people being cut off from their homes and loved ones, and getting on as best they may. Some behave well, some welcome others, while there are also incidents of violence and desperation. Then there is movement, a plunging towards an attack, but it is also a time of gradual and unexplained delays, routes to invasion which seem obscure, a secrecy and misinformation. When Normandy is reached, the description of fighting is intense, unsparing and completely authentic. This is not the muddy trenches of the First World War, this is the mobile , bewildering and no holds barred movement of men through the beaches, fields and houses of real people. As someone with a family history of such experiences, the atmosphere of improvised attack were familiar to me; the little events of humour and relief consistent with the untold stories of danger and even death. This novel is so readable because it does not record the huge numbers of men and weapons transported, it creates and maintains characters who experience the challenges of preparation, transport and battle. This author records his eyewitness accounts of everything through the experience of Alfie Bradley, who experiences first love. A Private Smith who wants to come back to a farming job. Charlie Venable, who follows his own rules and finds his own motives to fight on his terms. The officers, reading, discussing training, torn by their own challenges. This is not just an action novel of battle, this novel is a series of portraits of real people enduring and experiencing an unique set of circumstances. This book is one of a set of four books written in the Second World War which shows the experience of so many. Their immediacy and personal impact is ensured by their writing from the midst of experience rather than the long view of memory. I felt this book provided a significant change to my perspective of what the invasion of D Day was actually like, and did so through personal accounts lightly fictionalised for powerful effect. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel. I recommend it for anyone who wants an accurate, moving and sometimes funny book, full of insight into people preparing for battle and the truth of war. An amazing reading experience.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Thelastwordreview

    The Imperial War Museum has just released four wartime classics as part of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of Second Wold War and I delighted to be reviewing all four of these classic wartime stories. The first is From the City, From the Plough (IWM Wartime Classics) by Alexander Baron. First released in 1948 and went on to sell over a million copies. War stories tell of bravery but also the shock and horror of war. And here Alexander Baron tells the story of the Fifth Battalion, Wessex Reg The Imperial War Museum has just released four wartime classics as part of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of Second Wold War and I delighted to be reviewing all four of these classic wartime stories. The first is From the City, From the Plough (IWM Wartime Classics) by Alexander Baron. First released in 1948 and went on to sell over a million copies. War stories tell of bravery but also the shock and horror of war. And here Alexander Baron tells the story of the Fifth Battalion, Wessex Regiment as they prepared in the run-up to D-Day and the storming of the beaches. Like any wartime story or film we come to know the leading characters and you know instantly some are not going to make it. This is the horror of war. A generation of young men ready to take on the Nazi war machine on the coast of Normandy. This is a powerful story told in under 200 pages. You come to know each of the men and how they interact with each other. These are ordinary men who were leading a normal working class life now they have left their families and their homes to fight. This novel is based on Baron’s own experiences of the battle for Normandy so he not only writes with incredible prose but from experience. Some of the storyline is meant to shock, but tells the story as it should be told. It is no surprise that Baron went on to be a successful writer and screenwriter. The men become a band of brothers as they stand side by side and storm the beaches and the horrors that wait as the beach comes closer. Make no mistake this is no ordinary war story but one that is told as it was. A country at a time when it was still rebuilding and lives rebuilding now they could read a novel based on what it was really like. What must it have been like as they started to board the landing craft seeing the beaches ahead and shells exploding on the beaches. It is here in the story. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity of reviewing all four of these wartime classics that the Imperial War Museum have now released to a new generation of readers in a year when we have commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day back in June. Over the next few weeks look out the three other titles in the IWM Wartime Classics Series. Highly Recommended.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Derek Collett

    This is a superlative World War Two novel. Its originality lies in the fact that it was written by a ordinary soldier, not an officer. Most of the best World War Two-set novels that I have read were authored by officers (I'm thinking here in particular of Evelyn Waugh's superb Sword of Honour trilogy, but also of the likes of The Small Back Room, written in 1943 by Major Nigel Balchin). Interestingly, Baron would almost certainly have been made an officer had he not been a Communist (that sort o This is a superlative World War Two novel. Its originality lies in the fact that it was written by a ordinary soldier, not an officer. Most of the best World War Two-set novels that I have read were authored by officers (I'm thinking here in particular of Evelyn Waugh's superb Sword of Honour trilogy, but also of the likes of The Small Back Room, written in 1943 by Major Nigel Balchin). Interestingly, Baron would almost certainly have been made an officer had he not been a Communist (that sort of thing was not allowed in 1940 when he was conscripted). From the City, From the Plough records the story of the (fictional) Fifth Battalion of the Wessex Regiment in the lead-up to D-Day and then in and around the Normandy beaches themselves. There is a lot of build-up before the battalion goes into action and this aspect of the book will not be to everyone's taste. However, Baron is very good on the frustrations experienced by a large group of men desperate to be doing something, anything almost (I was reminded here of Christopher Nevinson's painting French Troops Resting), and he describes the activities of a wide cross-section of soldiers from top to bottom. Some of this material is very funny and there is a lot of interesting incidental detail. When the battalion finally goes into action then the novel shifts up several gears. The assault on the beaches is graphic, moving and very memorable. If the attack is over almost before it began then that was presumably Baron's own experience of D-Day and there are compensatory attractions to be found in the way in which he describes the aftermath of the assault and, admittedly, the battle does flare up again from time to time. This book is beautifully written, heartfelt, humane and feels utterly true to life. At times I found it a little slow for my taste and Baron occasionally drifts towards sentimentality but his story is immensely readable and represents a vivid recreation of the Normandy landings from an ordinary soldier who was actually there. A fabulous achievement and having enjoyed this and There's No Home already this year I am anxious to read more by the same author.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jaffareadstoo

    The events of D-Day, now so long ago, with only a handful of war veterans who were actually there, proves that this novel is all the more timely as it gives a fictional account of the build up to D-Day as seen through the eyes of the men who made up the 5th Battalion of the Wessex Regiment. This group of soldiers, like so many battalions, was drawn from all aspects of life, from those who arrived covered in the dust and grime of cities, to the country boys who were more at home wielding a scythe The events of D-Day, now so long ago, with only a handful of war veterans who were actually there, proves that this novel is all the more timely as it gives a fictional account of the build up to D-Day as seen through the eyes of the men who made up the 5th Battalion of the Wessex Regiment. This group of soldiers, like so many battalions, was drawn from all aspects of life, from those who arrived covered in the dust and grime of cities, to the country boys who were more at home wielding a scythe, or ploughing a field, and yet in exceptional circumstances, this band of brothers grouped together to form a cohesive whole. From the City, From the Plough, is the author's fictional account of a situation he experienced at first hand as he was one of the soldiers to go across the channel around D-Day. He writes with authority about the inertia of the long hot summer of 1944 when the soldiers of the 5th Battalion were waiting for action. The novel instills such a sense of reality that there were times when I forgot that I was reading a fictional account as it feels more as if you are living through every second of the interminable waiting with them. When the action finally starts to happen there's a real sense of horror as the men struggled with ferocious German bombardment and of the sheer hard slog of trying to keep one step ahead of an enemy who was as dangerous as it was unpredictable. The novel tells a powerful story and doesn't describe the men of the 5th battalion as anything other than soldiers with faults and failings, some good, some bad, some who were typical opportunists, who were out for themselves, and others who were inherently good blokes with a sense of patriotic duty. The book was published in 1948 and its first print run of 3000 copies sold out before publication. Since then the book has sold over one million copies, and it is hoped that this new IWM edition will bring this powerful story to a whole new readership. From the City, From the Plough brings D-Day to life in a story which breaks your heart into a million pieces and it is one which will stay with me for a very long time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I have read fiction concerning WW2 before but never anything that has felt so real as this book. I felt many times like I was reading non-fiction and this can only be down to the author reliving his own experience. The first half concerned the training, the building of friendships, finding out who could be relied on, life in the local area, especially with the local women. And mainly pointing out the obvious to the reader. That this group of men were not soldiers. They were farmers, industrial an I have read fiction concerning WW2 before but never anything that has felt so real as this book. I felt many times like I was reading non-fiction and this can only be down to the author reliving his own experience. The first half concerned the training, the building of friendships, finding out who could be relied on, life in the local area, especially with the local women. And mainly pointing out the obvious to the reader. That this group of men were not soldiers. They were farmers, industrial and city workers who were prepared to do their duty but scared of what they faced. Just like any soldier though, they were husbands, fathers and sons whose loved ones had little idea of what they really faced. The second half, mainly set in Normandy was where the narrative really hit home. Yes, there are accounts of the men marching through the villages with flowers in their helmets, singing and making the local children a little happier but there are also increasingly upsetting accounts of death, fear and exhaustion. Two things hit me. How chilling and ironic to read of soldiers fighting a war sheltering behind a war memorial for the last one and the strange acceptance of death. Where the loss of a food lorry had more significance than the loss of a friend. It demonstrated what these young men faced each and every day. The ending was one that I thought about long after finishing. It was one which gave no hope for the men going into their next battle and left me thinking that the ones who’re injured early on were the lucky ones.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alex Jones

    First written in 1948, this is a piece of fiction yet it is based on Alexander Baron's real life experiences. Whilst not a huge read physically, its less than 200 pages, it's a huge read literary wise, this book is a stunning accomplishment which stands the test of time to this day. Detailing the story of the Fifth Battalion as they train and await their posting, the first part of the book, is engaging, and builds subtlety as we are introduced to the characters in the book, all well believable and First written in 1948, this is a piece of fiction yet it is based on Alexander Baron's real life experiences. Whilst not a huge read physically, its less than 200 pages, it's a huge read literary wise, this book is a stunning accomplishment which stands the test of time to this day. Detailing the story of the Fifth Battalion as they train and await their posting, the first part of the book, is engaging, and builds subtlety as we are introduced to the characters in the book, all well believable and possibly very real people. Later, the book describes the most harrowing D-Day landings in Normandy and then the press onward through France battling the enemy. At times, horrific, haunting and emotional, it’s very deep, and very sad as you know what your reading is based on real events. I found my self so caught up in these events I was almost heart-broken at the outcome of the soldiers we meet through the book. Baron wrote this raw powerful story without wasting any extra filling words. His story is both compelling and beautiful. It’s very moving. Quite simply a fantastic achievement that a book written over 60 years ago can be picked up by a 37-year-old man, and effect me quite the way it has. My reading of books from, and based on the tragic awful events of ww2 are limited, yet I think I would be hard pressed to read another book so vivid and so very realistic Highly Recommended 5 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

  17. 5 out of 5

    Roberto

    Loved this. The writing is quiet and unsentimental, the characters ring true, their fears, camaraderie, and pining for lost loves and mothers all have a real humanity that makes each life lost seem all the more terrible and callous. Really brought the lives of these soldiers home.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    A brilliant book written in 1948 and truly captures the brutality of the Normandy landings. His writing is wonderfully descriptive and the characters are so well drawn that its impossible not to be moved by the subsequent events. This book should be better known!!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Razvan Banciu

    A hard and rough book, about war, loyalty and friendship. Some parts look like a true documentary, mere facts and numbers, with more questions than answers. Interesting, many english people have died for the sake of Europe, and their descendants show us the brexit...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike Futcher

    An engrossing depiction of life in a battalion of ordinary British soldiers in World War Two, written soon after the war by a British ex-soldier. It is, essentially, a pseudo-memoir in novel form as Alexander Baron drew heavily from his own experiences and observations (read Sean Longden's exceptional introduction and afterword for more insight). The book is often highly-praised by war veterans who say "Read this. This is what it was like." Not being someone who has experienced such things, I ca An engrossing depiction of life in a battalion of ordinary British soldiers in World War Two, written soon after the war by a British ex-soldier. It is, essentially, a pseudo-memoir in novel form as Alexander Baron drew heavily from his own experiences and observations (read Sean Longden's exceptional introduction and afterword for more insight). The book is often highly-praised by war veterans who say "Read this. This is what it was like." Not being someone who has experienced such things, I cannot vouch for this, but I have to say that nevertheless I found the battle scenes intense and horrific in a way I have never experienced before in the written word. The prose is sparse (Baron is one of those gifted writers who has more to say in the white spaces between the lines than in the lines themselves) and it is told in a matter-of-fact way that strongly reminded me of the interviews and anecdotes given by World War Two veterans that I have often heard and read in numerous history books. There is no indulgent lyricism or high-minded language, which suits the remorseless and unsentimental, almost confessional, narrative. This is not to say that the prose is poor; it contains a number of evocative phrases - my favourite being the British soldiers watching, on the night of D-Day, the brutal enemy artillery "gun-flashes tearing the darkness apart" (pg. 121). Baron observes the war with the cynical, unromantic eye of the honest Tommy; when the commander rouses the men in the final battle, it is not with a Shakespearean "ye lucky few" type speech, or even a regimental battle-cry, but with kicks, with yells, and above all, by setting an example to the ragged men and leading from the front. When two characters debate their duty and obligations it is not followed by outpourings of patriotism or hatred for the enemy. Rather, as one of them explains to the other, it's like when, back at home, you're told by your ma to run to the shops for a loaf. You get up and go, then come back. It's just something that has to be done (pg. 105). It's one of the most profound and unassuming (and accurate) reflections on the soldier's duty that I have ever come across. It is a book packed with emotional power; scene after scene of raw humanity. The heartbreaking moments do not always come in battle; indeed, one of the most affecting scenes is of a choir of grateful French schoolchildren singing 'God Save the Queen' to the weary soldiers in broken English (pg. 155). But the battle scenes are the highlight, without a doubt. Though few, they made a deep impression on this reader. It is in these moments when Baron's detached yet paradoxically intimate narrative voice is at its best. Much as a seasoned soldier would, the narrative deals with death and injury in a matter-of-fact way; major characters are suddenly gone, or crippled, and the narrative quickly moves on, just as a fellow soldier on a battlefield would in passing such scenes. As I alluded to above, the final battle scene is one of the most intense scenes I have experienced in the written word, and I felt genuine heartache as the soldiers are repeatedly put through the wringer. Incoming artillery fire is considered one of the most horrific and nerve-wracking experiences that an infantry soldier can go through, and the men of the 5th Wessex, these pieces of "soft, human flesh clad only in khaki serge, with the angry splinters of steel whining among them" (pg. 176) endure it repeatedly in one of the most brutal battles of the Normandy campaign. In these moments, it is the little things that make the prose add up to more than the sum of its parts. For example, we witness the losses on the British side to the relentless artillery fire, which is "like waves sweeping away the clusters of men clinging to the mainmast of a sinking ship" in a storm (pg. 183), and Baron notes that all this is happening before the British even catch sight of the German helmets (pg. 180). He doesn't dwell on this detail, but attentive readers will notice it and find it heartbreaking. Another powerful technique that Baron employs towards the end is that he stops using the names of his characters: we are not told who survives the battle, we are only told of "the men of the Fifth Battalion", now alarmingly depleted in number and in energy. This might sound unacceptable and off-putting to someone who has not read the book, feeling that the story may lack in resolution, but it is an extraordinarily powerful way to end. Maybe we're not told who survives because, as Longden suggests in his introduction, it is pointless - even if they did survive that battle, they probably wouldn't survive the next one. I would perhaps suggest that we're not told who survives because no one whose name we have been told has survived. It is a disturbing thought, and a truly poignant way to end the book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    The Literary Shed

    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 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.… See full review: http://www.theliteraryshed.co.uk/read... This review was originally published as part of the IWM virtual book tour. Thanks to the publisher for a review copy. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nigel Richardson

    Less a novel, more a series of vignettes which give a real feeling of what it would have been like to be in a battalion training for war, or in the war itself. Beautifully written. Lots of reviews say that it was written from the perspective of the ordinary soldier, perhaps because Baron was a communist and just a corporal himself. I didn't really think so - he writes quite objectively and seems to appreciate the responsibilities and plights of the officers as well as the boredom and powerlessne Less a novel, more a series of vignettes which give a real feeling of what it would have been like to be in a battalion training for war, or in the war itself. Beautifully written. Lots of reviews say that it was written from the perspective of the ordinary soldier, perhaps because Baron was a communist and just a corporal himself. I didn't really think so - he writes quite objectively and seems to appreciate the responsibilities and plights of the officers as well as the boredom and powerlessness of the men.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mike Hall

    The Imperial War Museum has republished a number of novels written by front line participants in the WWll conflict. "From the City, from the Plough" tells of the fifth battalion the Wessex Regiment as it moves from England into Normandy on D Day, and hence through Northern Europe. it is very well written, I would not have wanted to be there, but most had no choice. Other books in the series that I have read are "Warriors for the Working Day" about a tank gun crew and "Patrol" about, unsurprising The Imperial War Museum has republished a number of novels written by front line participants in the WWll conflict. "From the City, from the Plough" tells of the fifth battalion the Wessex Regiment as it moves from England into Normandy on D Day, and hence through Northern Europe. it is very well written, I would not have wanted to be there, but most had no choice. Other books in the series that I have read are "Warriors for the Working Day" about a tank gun crew and "Patrol" about, unsurprisingly a patrol. I recommend each of them.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Written in 1948, this is a remarkably realistic and involving 180 page story of a battalion on D-Day, the waiting and training beforehand and the first few months in Normandy. Despite the number of whom to keep track, every character from the Colonel to the most humble of privates is convincing and fully-rounded. There are poignant and sentimental moments, the fighting against a superior enemy is brutal and death and debilitating wounds are appropriately capricious. Still a great read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    I loved this book. Structurally, it reads almost like a series of random diary entries, showing us realistic vignettes of ‘average soldiers’ training and preparing to be shipped off to the carnage of the D-Day landings. The novel’s genius is in how the prose and tone changes and tightens as the fighting begins, and the story leads to its remarkable ending.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Gardiner

    A terrible title, but a beautifully observed, very human tale of men going off to war. Alexander Baron’s first published novel deserves to be called a classic of World War Two fiction.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Wayne

    wonderful read. great insight into the common soldier.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Great book to take you to the build up to D day and a little beyond

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    A very arresting book. It is highly emotional to read the everyday doings of the young lads who know they are preparing to invade France and how matter of fact they are about their chances of survival. It is all very real, but to us softies at the same time it all feels completely unreal, like a dream, or rather a nightmare.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Kersting

    One of the best books I have read in a long while, it is truly beautiful and horrifying to read. The ending left me in a mood I don't think I have been in before. I want to just degrade every 5-star book I have read before this, as none of them have left me feeling this devastated before. One of the best books I have read in a long while, it is truly beautiful and horrifying to read. The ending left me in a mood I don't think I have been in before. I want to just degrade every 5-star book I have read before this, as none of them have left me feeling this devastated before.

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