on 3 March 2004
On seeing the title of The 8-15 to War it would be very easy to dismiss Peter Roach's book "as just another war story". This little book is far from being just a series of readable reminiscences but reflects the thoughts and philosophy of a remarkable man who started out in life by sailing round the world in a tall ship before the mast. He spent most of the first two years of the war at sea on Atlantic convoys and, deciding that he'd had enough of bombs, torpedoes and shells without being able to hit back and wishing to get to grips with the enemy himself, he persuaded the authorities to allow him to leave the Merchant Navy and join the Army.
Peter Roach arrived in Egypt in the spring of '42 and soon went up the desert as a gunner operator in the 1st tank regiment. His book takes us through the rest of the North African campaign, across to Italy and back to the UK to prepare for the invasion of Normandy. In July '44 he was wounded in the fighting which followed Operation Goodwood but managed to return to the regiment again in October, only to be wounded in January '45 in Holland after which he returned to England for a commission.
Roach's actual story and the detail of his adventures are kept very much in the background as he reflects upon all the various aspects of life which affected the ordinary soldier 'up the sharp end'. In his foreward Field Marshal Carver says "there are no heroics here and no exaggeration; but nothing is left out or glossed over either. This is what war was like". No words could describe this book more succinctly. Roach makes no bones about those aspects of army life which he found tiresome or even aroused his contempt but, as he says in the preface, he has been generous to those he did not understand. What is particularly fascinating about the way he has written is that as you advance through the book you can see the effect that the experience of war had had upon him and how, towards the end, he had clearly had enough and was becoming cynical and bitter.