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on 15 April 2013
As a rule, I read three to four books at a time; an old school habit, seldom broken. Mind you, not a bad thing with life so busy and all. But, once-in-a-while, a real page-turner comes down the pike that breaks my habit and slows life down to one book at a time.

This morning, I finished reading Deserter by Charles Glass. A thoughtful, evocative, emotional, and lucid study of the young men from my father's generation who deserted ranks during World War Two. Toward books end I cried.

Glass rightly calls Deserter the last untold story of the Second World War, a topic on which little is spoken, or for that matter acknowledged. In fact, it's hard for any of us to imagine one hundred and fifty thousand British, Commonwealth and American troops walking off the field of battle. But, they did. And, this is the poignant story... the untold story, of all the boys thrown into the meat grinder of war who had - for reasons of their own - had enough. This is a good book.
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Much has been written about the deserters of the First World War, the lack of understanding of shell shock, the executions at dawn and the campaigns for posthumous recognition and pardons; but far far less has been written about the deserters of the Second World War. Perhaps because we think of the trenches of Flanders as a particularly unique and horrifying form of warfare, the life of the fighting man in World War Two is somehow seen, in comparison, as 'not as bad'. As if war was ever something you could compare and contrast.

Many hundreds of men were executed for desertion between 1914-1918 - in the later war, just one. One poor unfortunate American private, Eddie Slovik. Men were executed for innumerable other crimes, but not desertion. This is not to say that desertion was not a problem in WW2 - as Glass points out, figures were probably even higher; and court-martial boards and military psychiatrists, whilst better informed, were not necessary any more sympathetic. After the horrors and shame of WW1 the public on the homefront simply would not have accepted execution as a punishment, and WW2 was a political war as much as it was a military and strategic one.

So this is an important book, and a welcome addition to a gap in WW2 studies. That said, anyone looking, as I was, for a general overview of desertion across the armies of both Axis and Allied powers, an investigation into the causes, impetus, apprehension, punishment, incarceration, legacy, had better keep looking. This is more an extended biography of a handful of three particular deserters, two American, one British, than anything else, and I don't think any of these men are especially representative. I was a little disappointed at the lack of this broad overview, but this is still an excellent book - moving and deeply humane.
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on 9 June 2014
A couple of reviewers have posted ignorant or very biased reviews. One feels that getting the title of a regiment shows ignorance and "badly written" comment when this is an amazingly detailed and fully referenced book. Another questions the number of deserters from the UK when the author of the book states this includes those who were sent to work in mines. Another says it tells how the Americans won the war. In fact the way many of the American forces are detailed suggests that their deserters impeded the war - Patton's tanks running out of fuel in the winter months while deserting GIs were selling fuel and other supplies meant for the front in Paris and elsewhere. This really is an amazing book about something few have written about and details how appalling was the treatment to young men who were often badly damaged psychologically.
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on 20 May 2013
This is a really original and deeply humane portrait of a number of soldiers who decided, for different reasons, to abandon the fight. I was particularly drawn to it because of its choice of perspective - that of the scared, confused or despairing soldier's mind - which allows the reader to vividly understand the horror and inhumanity of war without the blinding bombast of some war literature. It reminded me also - if anyone needs reminding - that the most radical and important thing one should struggle for is not only peace, but the active prevention of war. Highly recommended!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 April 2013
Charles Glass's new book, "The Deserters: The Hidden History of WW2" is a bit of a difficult book to characterise. While the central theme is on deserters from battle - and there were many - most of the book is taken up with descriptions of the various battles in Europe and Africa that the three focused-on soldiers fought. Glass tells the stories of three "deserters"; one British and two Americans.

After reading this book, I'm just surprised MORE soldiers didn't desert than the hundred thousand or so who did. Conditions were terrible and as Glass points out, replacements of old soldiers with new was not always handled correctly. The three men Glass writes about fought long and hard.

Why would a soldier desert? To escape death and injury, definitely, but, more than a few soldiers deserted TO the front to see more action! Soldiers injured in battle often had their physical wounds patched up, but unseen psychiatric wounds were not addressed and an injured soldier was often sent back to battle after being deemed physically recovered. He might be so scarred and the idea of battle too repugnant to bear that he would desert his posting. But, where to go? Desertion from naval service was usually impossible unless the sailor was in port, so most of those who did desert were infantry soldiers. Of all those who were caught and brought to trial, only one court-martial ended in a military execution - Prvt Eddie Slovik - instead of a dishonorary discharge and a prison term.

Glass's book is excellent reading for a WW2-buff. He's a good writer and takes a nuanced look at the three soldiers and their lives. But it is not light reading.
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on 22 December 2014
This book changed my atitidude to desertion in time of war, not all deserters were cowards and crooks. I would
love to see someone
write a book about what happened to those guards in that military prison, did they get their just deserts after the war?
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on 9 April 2013
Poorly written and badly edited. The figures of deserters quoted are highly suspect. Twice as many British as Americans? I don't think so. What about the many US bombers landed in Switzerland by US aircrew deserting from daylight raids? Not a mention. How many desertions from Axis forces? There was no Royal East Kent Regiment. The East Kent Regiment (The Buffs) took pride in not being 'Royal', not because they were not loyal to the King but because it made them differen! Glass is no obviously no historian but a journalist. I regret this purchase.
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on 12 June 2014
fascinating subject but felt like I was reading a text book. seemed a bit disjointed at times as jumped between subjects and places without any obvious continuity. showed the brutality and callousness of war ,especially in the treatment of the soldiers who had witnessed terrible things, particularly by their commanding officers and the M.P.s
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on 26 April 2013
I brought the book as result of a recommendation in The Times believing it to be a study in some depth on the problem of post traumatic stress in war. It was not but it was about desertion as the title implied and, of course, desertion can be linked, but not always, to post traumatic stress. Perhaps I misunderstood the review and, as a result, was disappointed particularly as it tended to deal with two or three key personalities rather than the problem overall. However, an enjoyable read but i wouldn`t go out of my way to recommend it.
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on 11 May 2013
This book gives a fascinating account of deserters in WW2. I was surprise to learn of the large number of UK and US deserters, something those of us fed a diet of propaganda films were unaware of. The stories of the three main characters in the book are thought provoking. No matter how well read we might be there are always untold stories. I can recommend this book.
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