Monday, 25 November 2013

Working class hero

I probably would never have known about this book had Jerry not asked me to buy it for him so he could save on the postage.

Johnny Peters was a working class lad growing up in a tough neighbourhood of Liverpool when the war broke out. Volunteering for the Border regiment in 1941, he became part of the Airlanding Brigade. This led him almost to Sicily as his glider crashed in North Africa. He eventually reached Italy by ship. The trips to Arnhem and Norway were almost as eventful but at least he made it there. This account makes it clear that there were a lot of crashes, aborted flights and scares in the airborne forces. Useful to realise also that Peters only had two short stints of combat (two weeks in mainland Italy and 9 days at Arnhem) in four years of service.

What struck me is that Peters' life was pretty grim in many respects, which makes the hardships of war stand out less. That tough attitude was carried into the army and Peters doesn't polish away his fights with Italians and Canadians and running in with the military hierarchy. It is interesting to see how soldiers managed to scrape a bit of extra income from selling surplus stores and by collecting watches and camera's from POWs.

Similarly, Peters had an eye for the world around him. From his encounters with North African shoe shiners to the shaving of Norwegian women who had fraternised with German soldiers.

One anecdote that stands out for me is how Johnny's father (a veteran of WWI) always refused to wear a poppy because the Veteran's Legion had refused to grant him the money to buy shoes for his son.  So although this book may not teach you much about combat operations, it's an occasionally captivating read, showing that our grandparents lives were much more exceptional than we sometimes realise.

The question is why they mostly hid it from us.

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