Going to the Wars: A Journey in Various Directions

Paul Dry Books
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“My brother officers. Are they human?” Thus reads the first journal entry of twenty-three-year-old John Verney, graduate of Eton and Oxford, lover of modern art and literature, who has, almost on a whim, joined a part-time cavalry regiment of the British Army in 1937. At the outbreak of World War II two years later, Verney arrives in the Middle East and there learns, almost in spite of himself, to be a soldier. In 1943, he becomes a parachutist and leads a “drop” into Sardinia to attack German airfields. His adventures there―two weeks wandering through enemy territory, his capture, and his eventual escape―are brilliantly told.

Woven into the fabric of this narrative of a young man growing reluctantly to maturity and coming to terms with military life, are Verney’s thoughts and feelings about his wife, Lucinda, and the child he has never seen, and his longing to return to them.

“Delightful reading.”―The Economist

“This book is unclassifiable: commentary, autobiography, satire by turns: but it is wholly readable, wholly successful. The author stands spokesman for a whole generation.”―Daily Telegraph

“This short, witty book is a triumph.”―Observer

“An exciting writer.”―Raymond Mortimer, Sunday Times
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About the author

John Verney (1913–1993) was a writer, painter, and illustrator. An assistant film director, officer in the North Somerset Yeomanry, and newlywed at the outbreak of war in 1939, he subsequently served in the Royal Armoured Corps and the fledgling Special Air Service. He fought in Syria, Egypt, Sardinia, and Italy. His other military adventures in Italy are told in his book A Dinner of Herbs, also published by Paul Dry Books.

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Paul Dry Books
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Biography & Autobiography / Military
History / Europe / Great Britain / 20th Century
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Includes the First World War Illustrations Pack – 73 battle plans and diagrams and 198 photos

“A bikers war-compellingly recounted

“The highly dangerous task of the aide-de-camp was often to carry urgent despatches with essential calls to action across the field of battle. The young men chosen for the job were invariably dashing, brave and prepared to take risks to achieve their objectives. They were, of course, always expert horsemen. The age of the military horseman had not quite come to a close at the time of the First World War, but-as with most forms of progress-he was sharing duties with that which would eventually replace him, the machines of the new age. Now there was a another breed of ‘daredevil,’ though necessarily ‘cut from the same cloth.’ The motorcycle despatch riders were a new service created in an age of innovation. All were so called ‘amateur’ soldiers though immediately at least ranked corporal so that they could, by British Army convention, address officers directly. These were invariably intelligent, accomplished young men drawn from the professions or universities. Their creed was the same as that of their horse mounted predecessors-the messages they carried had to get through and to deliver them motorcyclists often had to outpace charging Uhlans. Many of them ended their careers tangled among the wreckage of their ‘bikes.’ The author of this book has written a thrilling first hand account of his experiences riding military motorcycles along the front lines during the early stages of the First World War. Later as an officer he took command of a unit of ‘buzzers,’ whose job it was to maintain telephone links. A highly entertaining book and thoroughly recommended to all those interested in motorcycles, motorcycling and the Great War in Europe.”-Print ed.
Includes The Americans in the First World War Illustration Pack - 57 photos/illustrations and 10 maps
“THE narrative of adventure, travel, combat, and escape, which composes this volume, is the straight-forward work of a straight-thinking young American. Cornelius Winant gives a clear assessment of the great movements in which he had so chivalrously borne a part. Perhaps he had no thought of the manuscript ever going beyond his family, which now, in response to the natural wishes of many friends, privately distributes the account in printed form.
“Four boys with their mother and father composed the Winant family. The house on 71st Street must have re-echoed to the gay laughter and happy comradeship of these four devoted brothers.
“That was in 1900, when our soldier-narrator was but a little child; it was long ago, before the boy had left the endeared home for boarding school, before they had graduated from Princeton, before the catastrophe, in which each bore a distinguished part, shook the world.
“The reader will quickly become involved in a narrative which takes him, with Cornelius Winant, after his prompt will-to-enlist, through the early ambulance days, through a winter at Monastir, to the western front in the French Army, and twice into the harrowing experiences of German prison camps.
“The quality of the account is an utter fairness, as utter an uncomplaining courage, marked throughout by a boyish, naïve, selfless delight in the game. Of his terrible journey to the Dutch frontier he writes: “I remember thinking, as I was going along this road, that in spite of the hardships it was darn good fun, and I appreciated it at the time.”-Foreword
In 1943, after parachuting into Sardinia to raid a German airfield, John Verney and several of his comrades from the British irregular forces were captured and sent to a POW camp in Italy’s Abruzzo region. As the Allies attempted to retake the country, Verney and two others made their escape. For months, they survived on the generosity and bravery of the local Italians who fed them and kept them hidden in haylofts and mountain caves―despite the scarcity of resources and the dangers they themselves faced by harboring English soldiers.
Twenty years after the war, Verney revisited the scenes of his imprisonment and escape, and the result is both an enchanting evocation of Southern Italy and an exhilarating story of wartime daring. He recounts the ironic upsides of being a prisoner of war (“for the first time in four long years, I was free to do entirely what I wanted, which was to read as much as possible and try to learn to draw and write”) as well as the anxiety aroused by the possibility of attempting an escape. He describes the extremes of boredom, hunger, discomfort, and mutual irritation that he and his companions faced after their escape, and the immense capacity for tolerance and goodness that they discovered in each other―and especially in the desperately poor Italian families who helped them. Verney writes with a deceptive ease and wit, which reveals a subtlety and a candor that make this book as penetrating as it is delightful.

“Delightful reading.”―Economist on Going to the Wars

“This short, witty book is a triumph.”―Observer on Going to the Wars

"One of the best memoirs of the Second World War."―The Independent on Going to the Wars

“This book is unclassifiable: commentary, autobiography, satire by turns: but it is wholly readable, wholly successful. The author stands spokesman for a whole generation.”―Daily Telegraph on Going to the Wars
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