These are the writings of a professional soldier, commissioned in 1923, who was still a Major in 1941. By 1945 he was temporarily in command of XIII Corps in the rank of Lieutenant General. Altogether he commanded four divisions: the first (the 6th Armoured Division) in Italy in 1944 and his fourth, the Commonwealth Division in Korea. It was not unique for an infantry officer to be given an armoured division and he showed outstanding ability in his handling of it. His last command was as C-in-C NATO’s Northern Army Group in the rank of General.
While still a subaltern in The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) he earned the nickname of ‘Nap’, short for Napoleon. It was a regiment which produced a unique number of senior officers and for him to stand out in their company shows that he displayed significant talent early on. He describes life in that regiment and the lessons learned there from his mentors: a commanding officer who was one of the few survivors of the 1915 Battle of Neuve Chapelle and his Adjutant, Major Dickie O’Connor, who himself went on to earn fame for his command of what became XIII Corps in the dessert in 1941 when he defeated an entire Italian army.
Nap’s writing is straight forward and without flourish. He tells facts as they were and errs on the side of modesty when it comes to his own contribution, not a quality much in evidence in the writings of Montgomery who he clearly admires greatly. There are amusing stories to be treasured and he has the ability to paint a picture and set a scene but there are also major gaps, some due to missing chapters. One’s impression is that he was at his best and enjoyed himself most when commanding a battalion (1st Gordons) at El Alamein and a brigade (153 Infantry Brigade) in the first days after D-Day. It was after some fierce fighting in Normandy that he was plucked out and given command of 6th Armoured Division. He describes 1945 as ‘probably the most exciting and fulfilling year’ of his whole service. (more…)