Gathan Beaga

the second world war, in six volumes

In between obsessing about coffee, or playing with the new toy, or even actually working, I’ve been reading Winston Churchill’s six volume history of the Second World War.

Churchill’s prose is just as you’d imagine: sonorous yet holding a clarity and directness that makes it easy to read. Peppered throughout are memorable phrases that your mind insists on clothing in the remembered cadences of his voice – and at these points you feel like he is narrating it personally to you, his story of the greatest and most terrible war in human history.

I’d read the lot once before, in a fevered, intense week bed-ridden with the ‘flu (I had to take a couple extra days off to recuperate and finish the last volume). I’d always wanted to read it again – but this time I wanted to possess this prose for myself – and my chance arrived when the entire six volumes appeared in the Dymock’s sale for $9.99 each last month.

(I just love Churchill’s style of English. The other book that’s in a similar category for me is Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written in a far more discursive style, but still beautiful, elegant prose. And humorous too, Gibbon’s a funny guy. But I’m still waiting for that to appear in a book sale.)

So at the moment I’m in the middle of Volume 2. France has fallen. The British have declined to throw their last 25 RAF squadrons into the air battle over doomed France, which is just as well, because they now act as cover over the Channel, preventing German air superiority which might in turn enable cover for any Axis invasion fleet. And so in order to invade, the Germans must first destroy the RAF… and the Battle of Britain begins.

There’s a lot more yet, good and bad: sometimes Churchill’s continued justifications of his own decisions passes beyond the necessary; sometimes the thing drags a little (like portions of the “voice in the wilderness” themed Volume 1, and parts of some of the later volumes, if I remember correctly); but overall it’s a damn good read, an extraordinary achievement (one of many) by the author and a pretty good primer on the war.

But just remember who is writing the story: no ordinary historian…