From the playing fields of Eton via the horrors of the Western Front to the pinnacle of political power in 20th-century Britain – a brilliant collective biography of Harold Macmillan, Lord Salisbury, Oliver Lyttleton and Harry Crookshank.
Harold Macmillan, Oliver Lyttleton, Bobbety Cranbourne and Harry Crookshank all arrived at Eton in 1906, all served on the Western Front in the same battalion of the Grenadier Guards and all served in Cabinet under Winston Churchill during the Second World War. They helped Churchill regain Downing Street in 1951 and once more joined his Cabinet as senior figures. These four men were friends, sometimes enemies, as they argued and fought their way up the political ladder for over forty years.
The theme of Simon Ball's brilliant book is a race, willingly entered into by these four men, for power and glory. 'Politics is not a flat race, it's a steeplechase,' as Churchill once told Macmillan. And through the collective biography, Ball presents an extraordinary portrait of political ambition and intrigue from the First World War until Macmillan's resignation as Prime Minister in 1963. Tracing the lives of his four protagonists through the trauma of the trenches, their involvement in the Treaty of Versailles and in rebuilding Europe after the Great War.
All four Guardsmen were in Churchill's Cabinet during the Second World War and the book gives a penetrating account of the workings of the British government at War. As he traces the story through the Suez crisis to Macmillan's premiership, he describes the rise of socialism, appeasement, the unravelling of empire, social welfare, etc. The ruthlessness of politics is brilliantly illustrated – particularly in his portrait of Macmillan's dealings with former friends when he found his political career, finally, in the ascendant.
Ball has based the book on years of original research in many archives and he has had exclusive access to the Salisbury papers, closed to the public until 2022.The Guardsmen is therefore a work of significant scholarship that presents a gripping account of the workings of politics during the 20th century.