"We can get you buggers for a shilling a day, but the horses cost eighty quid each."
(First World War NCO to Signalman John Powell).
D-Day veteran Stan Whitehouse, at 17 one of the youngest soldiers to hit the beaches on 6 June 1944, recalls the "smallness" of a private soldier's war: "Thirty yards that way and maybe thirty yards behind. That's all you can take in, all you dare look at."
And that's the basis of Peter Rhodes' superb book: a series of brief and terrifyingly vivid close-ups of modern warfare, from the trenches of the First World War to present day Afghanistan. This isn't conventional history - there is nothing here on what these battles and skirmishes were all about, or even who won or lost and why. Instead it is a gripping series of flashbacks of the incidents, the places and the people that still haunt survivors, even sixty, seventy, eighty years on. This book will tell you what it was like to be there - and what it is like to be one of the ones who survives against all the odds, to tell the tale in old age.
Peter Rhodes is a modestly unobtrusive narrator who has crafted a superb book which does full justice to the soldiers whose words he has recorded: ordinary men who rose to the challenges of extraordinary events, and who recall them now with a mixture of emotions that cannot fail to move the reader. It should be required reading for every politician who is ever likely to have the power to send a single soldier into battle. Sadly, of course, it never will be.