Sgt Trevor Greenwood was a member of C-Squadron, 9th Royal Tank Regiment, and sailed to France in June 1944 as part of the Allied invasion of Normandy. From D-Day until April 1945, he kept a, exhaustively detailed diary of his experiences and observations as he travelled through France and into Germany, despite the fact that the keeping of such records was against stringent military regulations, requiring him often to write in secret and under the most terrible conditions.
These diaries - often heavily abbreviated and laden with military language and jargon that would not be familiar to the casual reader - remained hidden in a dusty loft until sometime after Trevors death, at which point they - and their significance - was discovered by his family, and were painstakenly transcribed and revised with the assistance of the Imperial War Museum in order to provide the book that you now hold in your hands.
They are significant not only because they describe the experiences of one mans jounery through Normandy as a commander in a Churchill tank, and as such also provides a fascinating insight into the harrowing experiences that the men who fought in such conflicts endured, and testiment to how much France and its people had suffered through four years of occupation, but they also effectively record the entire history of 9th RTR throughout that theatre.
This is a deeply personal account, and Trevor recalls every aspect of day to day life in a warzone. That said, perhaps unexpectedly, this is a book that is hardly overflowing with tales of tank v's tank conflict. Trevor barely spends any time describing the details of his own vehicle - other than expressing his confidence that the Churchill tank was 'tough', and his hope that it would be up to the task of facing enemy armour if they met it. In fact, whilst they had witnessed quite extensively the carnage and destruction that the war had created accross the French countryside, Trevor and his crew do not even come under direct enemy fire until D-Day + 75, and when they next come under attack it is Trevors feelings that the culprets may have been his own allied artillery!
Nor is this book filled with stories of bravery and daring-do. No, the prevailing emotions conveyed by Trevor throughout his diaries are ones of fear and weariness. Fear that his life could be snuffed out in an instant by a threat that remains unseen - with snipers, mines and booby traps being particular phobias - and a tiredness so deeply ingrained in his crew that even though they know that every grass verge or embankment is likely littered with explosive devices that could destroy their vehicle and end their lives, they traverse it regardless through the combination of their obligation to ensure that the Allied liberation effort must continue to move forward, and their desperation to avoid another torturously uncomfortable diversion in the cramped confines of their tank.
Despite their hellish surroundings however - and Trevor describes everything from the burnt out wrecks of enemy tanks and the immolated corpses of crew who didnt manage to escape, the smell of death, the dishevelled state of the foe they were facing, the desperation of the French citizens fleeing the conflict zone, the bloated corpses of livestock, and the physical destruction of a war so devestating that it literally erased entire towns from existance - the underlying feeling invoked by Trevors accounts is actually one that day to day life must go on, and by far the most numerous, interesting, detailed, and endearing entries are those that describe events that would be considered terribly mundane in any other circumstances.
Compared to the ordeal of traversing miles of difficult terrain in a small metal box whilst under enemy fire, the task of struggling to sleep in a hole in the ground whilst under attack by nothing more dangerous than swarms of mosquitos seem banal by comparison, as does a lack of cigarettes, going a few days without a bath, having to miss breakfast, or having to wait in-situe and do nothing for an indeterminate period of time - but it is these more prosaic experiences that most frequently occupy Trevors thoughts and his writings.
Perhaps most compelling however is the fact that, despite exisiting in an environment where it seems impossible that any hope could exist, there is an almost persistant tone of positivity throughout Trevors writings, especially when we are privvy to his thoughts regarding his family and friends - and in particular his wife Jess, and his son who he refers to as 'Poppet', who was only 11 weeks old when he left for war, and whom Trevor had only briefly seen.
Trevor also speaks glowingly about the character and reserve of his crew and colleagues, maintains his obstinance and dry sense of humour throughout his ordeals, and exhibits the kind of stoicism and tendency for understatement - the 'stiff upper lip' - that could only result in a man describing an Allied formation being smashes to pieces by its own heavy bombers as no more than 'hard luck' if he were made of the sternest British steel!
Then theres the tea...
I've never read a book that contained so many examples of men trying to make a good old fashioned British brew under so many challenging conditions, but come hell or high-water, the 'hot sweet' must never get cold!