A book first published in 2009 recounting the WW2 exploits of a British soldier might beg the question as to why he waited so long. Having studied his story - and frequently marvelled at the events which befell him, I came to understand how that passage of time had allowed former soldier and author Ray Ellis to place a fair and reasonable appreciation on the events in question. In short, this memoir is written with a fuller understanding of what actually happened at the time than `might' have otherwise been the case. Had the work been written immediately after the war, we may have had a work tainted by the sadness and bitterness of such recent tragic events. Instead, we have a balanced and carefully thought-out account of one man's truly remarkable adventure thnrough that war.
Like so many of the youth of the day, Ray Ellis longed for the excitement of uniform and war. Fired with national pride he joined the South Notts Hussars. Transferred to the Royal Horse Artillery, he became a gunner and was soon in Palestine. From there it was a relatively short hop to the rigours of North Africa where his first taste of battle came at Mersa Matruh. Following his deployments to Sidi Barani, Gennia and Suez he became part of the famous defence of Tobruk - where he describes life during the siege with a simple honesty which allows the reader to understand the the very real hardships. This is followed by the break-out from Tobruk, the Nile Delta and the Battle of Knightsbridge - so far removed from the London Borough from which it took its name, and where his was the last gun still firing as they were overwhelmed with very few surviving to be taken prisoner.
In many ways, however, this man's remarkable tale could have started right here as wee learn of his days as a POW, his escape, life `on the run' and his eventual joining the partisans in the Apennine mountains. Eventually, of course, we learn of his repatriation.
I shall not spoil the enjoyment of the read (and it is a most satisfying read!), by revealing all - except to say that Ray Ellis has that rare ability to provide the most authentic and graphic accounts of the many different elements to this story - his being a civilian, a soldier, a fighter, under siege, a POW, an escapee, a fellow partisan and a homer-comer. It is a gripping tale, well told without any hint of bitterness towards that former enemy.
Somehow he is able to summarise all his own feelings in the book's Dedication which simply reads; "To those of my Comrades who grow not old."
God bless them all!
British Army major (Retired)
on 9 October 2014
This book arrived very quickly and in excellent condition. There is no doubt about Ray Ellis's ability to captivate a reader. You are taken on his long journey with him through fighting in Tobruk, site seeing in Egypt and the long horrendous journey to Italy. I have seen on TV programmes the fighting that took place in Torbruk, but in this book Ellis describes, (without all the gore) how fierce and brutal the fighting was and what horrific injuries some of the men received. Not only does he manage to survive all this but he also manages to survive the despicable treatment he received from the Italians when he was captured. I enjoyed this book so much I have put Ray Ellis's next book on my Christmas list.
on 10 August 2014
This is a definitive account of life in the desert told through truthful personal experiences. It accurately portrays the sacrifices and heroism of British and Commonwealth soldiers in terrible conditions that they were forced to endure. Ray Ellis, the author, was actually my teacher at primary school, and I can vouch for the fact that he was a remarkable man. So, believe all he says in this book, and appreciate the dedication of our troops in securing our freedom.
on 3 January 2015
This book will always remain one of my most influential and important reads. In a refreshing unadulterated way Ray writes about his early years with an open and selfless heart.
He was a true gentleman and without doubt the little acts of kindness showed throughout his life made him no short of a hero.
I met Ray a few years ago with my father in a local pub in Nottingham. I was excited and eager to meet him. It was a real honor to have met him. A masterful story teller, he enchanted me with his captivating tales and over his pint a glint in his eye told me his love for life was so positive and genuine I couldn't help but feel inspired.
What an incredible man. I still think of his experiences and attitude to life to give me a boost some days.
I would strongly recommend this book and the follow up story Always A Hussar which is an incredible account of life back in England after the war and his journey through his remarkable teaching career.
Thank you Ray. Forever remembered. Forever missed.
on 23 July 2016
I concur with all the positive reviews of this superb book. My only regret is that it ends rather suddenly. Repatriated by sea to Liverpool. Train to Nottingham. Sees his mother. The end. What about Binkie? Did he marry her or even see her again? What happened to Elena, the girl in Italy? Who did he marry? What of his children? Some words on returning to Italy after the war to meet the Minicucci and Lattanzi families again would have been a fitting conclusion.
Don't let my small criticisms put you off. This book is well-worth reading.