Best of Five… Normandy campaign memoirs

Tobias Clarke selects his five most loved memoirs recounting D-Day, Normandy and that long 1944 summer

Books on military history contain numerous personal accounts, often cherry picked from the memoirs of those who were present at the events described. By giving voice to the actors in the drama, the history is suddenly made more personal.

However, will readers of these books understand the feeling of what happened next in the lives of these people? It’s all well and good when a well-intentioned historian, searching for that little something that really sparks, lifts out a short passage discussing a fleeting moment of battle, but what of the everyday detail? This is where a memoir can be hard to match, and a campaign as large as Normandy is no exception, nor has there been a shortage of personal experiences put to paper.

First and best known is Robert Woollcombe’s lightly fictionalised Lion Rampant. Woollcombe served with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers as a subaltern and this book gives an excellent impression of the tactical confusion that existed in the rain and bocage around Caen in late June. The lion in the title refers to the emblem of the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division, of which Woollcombe was a member. In many respects, Lion Rampant is a World War Two equivalent to Afghanistan memoir, The Junior Officers’ Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey. Soldiering is 10% exhilaration and 90% boredom. So for every SS ambush there are hours of cramped foxholes and mind-numbing tedium; but not for the reader.

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