Book review: Trial by Battle by David Piper

Trial by Battle by David Piper

The Imperial War Museum has republished a number of novels written after the Second World War by men and women who took part in the conflict. Long out of print, if this is anything to go by, then the Museum has performed a great service in bringing them back before the reading public.

Trial by Battle starts with almost Waughesque farce as newly commissioned officer Alan Mart, fresh from Cambridge, arrives to take command of his Indian troops. He meets, and becomes an occaionsal friend and a more frequent sparring partner to Sam Moll, a wonderfully deep caricature of a career officer in the army. The first half of the book conveys the confusion and ad hoc response to the initial phases of the war, when soldiers were desperately deployed around the world, with the Indian brigade, trained in desert warfare, dispatched to Malaya to counter the Japanese offensive.

The second half of the book brilliantly conveys the confusion, fear and ignorance of war on the ground, where no one knows what is going on any further away than their own line of sight. It’s a novel born from Piper’s own wartime experience and profoundly downbeat.

It’s also a novel of the end of empire. For it’s clear that, by the 1940s, the British Empire was doomed for the men, like Alan Mart, who were educated to run it had become simply too embarrassed about what they were being asked to do to carry on doing it.

I’m looking forward to reading more in this series of reissues.


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