Of all the iconic images of the Second World War, none is more etched in the public mind than the picture of a defiant Winston Churchill, leading his nation alone against the Nazi hordes. Yet before the speeches about fighting on the beaches and the landing grounds, there was the first month of Churchill’s premiership, a time of great uncertainty, a time when it was by no means clear that Britain had the will, let alone the means, to stand up when all around them the old, great nations of Europe were falling.
Michael Dobbs presents this time in crystal clarity. We have a doubting Churchill, not at all convinced of his ability to shoulder the immense burden of a devastating military defeat which began on the very day he gained power. There is his War Cabinet, dedicated more to the notion of a negotiated peace than a continuation of a war already lost. The only hope, an early American intervention, is dashed on the defeatism of a duplicitous Joseph Kennedy. And there is the British Army, beaten almost before it entered the fight, facing a choice of surrender or fighting to the last bullet.
This is a remarkable book, written with an immediacy seldom seen in works about the war. It is a work of fiction, but one that, thanks to superb research and excellent writing skills, illuminates a time largely forgotten in the flush of the deliverance of Dunkirk and the subsequent victory over Germany. It serves as a reminder that the history of the world could have quite easily taken a different turn in that pivotal May of 1940, one that would have darkened the lives of all the subsequent generations.