Into Dust and Fire
In the spring of 1941, before Pearl Harbor, before American committed itself to involvement in World War II, a cadre of Ivy League-educated young men joined the fight without the backing of their country, by enlisting with the British Army in Canada. The personal stories of five of these men are at the core of Cox’s work. Letters, diaries, interviews, and photographs recreate the heady days of volunteering, bidding loved ones farewell, training in England, as well as the claustrophobic, months-long journey around the Horn of Africa, to the dusty, chaotic scrambling and fighting in North Africa. The battle of El Alamein is the first, and for some, only test for these young soldiers, and Cox’s documentation provides their unique perspective, which is missing from many accounts of the time. Culture shock, boredom, injury, recovery, and death are unflinchingly addressed, as the young men’s paths repeatedly cross. The story doesn’t end with the fighting; Cox, a niece of one of the soldiers, follows the paths of the families—both those who welcomed home survivors, and those who were left with only a telegram and a few personal effects. This is at times a painful, but completely riveting, read.