The War That Never Was by Duff Hart-Davis

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The War That Never Was by Duff Hart-Davis

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: A non-fiction 'Boys Own' type adventure which will appeal to history lovers and action fans.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Century
ISBN: 978-1846058257

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In the 1960's, an Egyptian general with delusions of grandeur is trying to conquer the Arab world, starting with Yemen. The new Imam, having previously disobeyed the general's orders to assassinate his own father, has fled to the hills. The British are wary of getting officially involved so turn to more subtle channels. Jim Johnson, an underwriter at Lloyd's who claims to have been arrested for attempted murder at the tender age of 8 when he attacked an Italian maid abusing a cat, is the man asked to run a secret operation. His response? I've nothing particular to do in the next few days. I might have a go. Putting together a team of mercenaries, he sends them to Yemen to fight what will become, as the subtitle of the book states, Britain's most secret battle.

So far, so Biggles-ish. Of course, the difference between this particular Boys Own adventure and the works of WE Johns is this is all completely true, with author Duff Hart-Davis taking over the writing of the book from Johnson's second in command Tony Doyle after Doyle's sad death of a heart attack. Doyle's notes appear to have been excellent as this is more like reading the thoughts of someone who was there than a secondary observer – although Hart-Davis also deserves huge credit for tracking down so many of the other key personalities to interview them.

Hart-Davis also does a great job of capturing both the surroundings the men found themselves in – hiding in caves, frantically arranging for parachute drops, and sometimes hugely reliant on their local allies who they knew could earn huge rewards if they turned on them – and the personalities of the mercenaries themselves. It's impressively detailed but he generally avoids getting too bogged down. Where he's perhaps just a little less successful is filling us in on the background of the clash and in particular the motivations of Nasser himself, which don't seem to get anywhere near as much attention as the British – perhaps this is to be expected, though, as the author was able to get so many views from the Brits but presumably none from the Egyptians.

Still, plenty to enjoy in this one and it's a welcome insight into a little-known piece of mid 20th century history, particularly as the author explains how it ties into the Six Day War.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For more superb history, try Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg, 1943 by Keith Lowe.

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