This book contains two very different memoirs written by the same man. Donald Dean served on the Western Front during the First World War, winning the Victoria Cross for defending an advanced position during the advances of September 1918. In the Second World War he served with the Pioneer Corps, the organisation that provided manpower for a wide range of work, from bringing supplies to the front to major engineering works.
The two memoirs are inevitably rather different in tone. Dean fought at Ypres, Passchendaele, Lens and during the victorious Allied advance of 1918, and was a front line soldier, living and fighting in the trenches (and often between the two lines, after he was put in charge of patrols). Between the wars he served with the Territorial Army, but in 1939 he was passed over for wartime command of his battalion, and instead given a post in the Pioneer Corps. Although this officially took him away from the front line, Dean was involved in the fighting in France in 1940 after his men were caught up in the retreat to Boulogne and had to form part of the rear guard. He then served on Madagascar and Sicily and during the campaign in Italy.
During this time Dean commanded men from all over the Empire, including large numbers of Africans and Indians, as well as working with Italian Prisoners of War and co-combatant soldiers. It is his attitude towards this multinational force that makes the book so compelling. While many other British officers clearly had low expectations of many of the men send to Dean, he had different ideas. It is clear that Dean made sure that he understood the individual requirements of each contingent, from their diets to the best way to handle discipline, and took pride in getting good work out of every different group.
Dean's attitude to his men combines with the very varied nature of their work to make this second part of the book a fascinating read. Dean's men were responsible for tasks including road and airfield construction, running prisoner of war camps and carrying supplies to the front line (probably the most dangerous duty). Early in his pioneer career he was also caught up in the retreat to Boulogne, where his men had to be issued with rifles and formed part of the rear guard. This is an excellent book, and provides a valuable look at the work of one of the unsung part of the Allied army.
Part I: The Great War
1 - The Artist's Rifles
2 - The Ypres Salient
3 - Passchendaele
4 - Reflections on Trench Warfare
5 - The Lens Front
6 - Dean's Post
Part II: The Second World War
7 - Disappointed with The Buffs
8 - The Phoney War
9 - The Boulogne Debacle
10 - Madagascar
11 - The Invasion of Sicily
12 - The Italian Campaign
Appendix A: Lieutenant Dean's VC Citation
Appendix B: Colonel Dean's Medal Entitlement
Appendix C: An AMPC Song
Author: Donald Dean, ed. Terry Crowdy
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military