War Diaries 1939-1945: Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, edited by Alex Danchev & Daniel Todman (2001)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

General Sir Alan Brooke, later Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, was Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) of the British Army from December 1941 and also chairman of the British Chiefs of Staff from March 1942 until after the end of World War Two. He was one of the four people who created the grand strategy of the Western Allies and so his unexpurgated diaries published in 2001 are an invaluable source for historians. Because of Alanbrooke’s pithy and very often harsh turn of phrase, they are also a joy to read. He could sum up people brilliantly in a sentence, indeed often just a sub-clause. Here is his view on Stalin, whom he admired as a strategist but despised as a tyrant: “He has got an unpleasantly cold, crafty, dead face, and whenever I look at him I can imagine his sending off people to their doom without ever turning a hair.” It is however Brooke’s volcanic but constantly changing love-hate relationship with Winston Churchill that made this book so controversial, and makes it so readable. On September 10, 1944 at the Quebec Conference, for example, the CIGS wrote of the prime minister that he “has only got half the picture in his mind, talks absurdities and makes my blood boil to listen to his nonsense. I find it hard to remain civil. And the wonderful thing is that three-quarters of the population of this world imagine that Winston Churchill is one of the Strategists of History, a second Marlborough, and the other quarter have no conception what a public menace he is and has been throughout the war! … Without him England was lost for a certainty, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and again… Never have I admired and disliked a man simultaneously to the same extent.”