The Black Jackals

Written by Iain Gale
Review by Jane E. Hill

In the summer of 1940 during WW2, the British Expeditionary Force in France were forced to retreat. The 51st. Highland Division (the Black Jackals) had orders to stop the German advance south until reinforcements arrived. The reinforcements never arrived, and the Highlanders were left isolated. The 51st receive several contradictory commands from the French; their own British Divisional commander and also from an unknown Colonel ‘R’ who was in receipt of messages from the War Office in London.

A task force commanded by Lieutenant Lamb is instructed to blow a bridge to stop the advance of the German tanks, but desperate refugees are also crossing the bridge. Facing unreliable allies and a lack of support from senior staff, Lamb and his group have to use cunning to pursue their special mission to deliver a vital message from Colonel ‘R’ concerning the evacuation of British troops from St. Valéry. Lieutenant Lamb and his sergeant have no option but to take their own decisions, which are often contrary to the orders they were given. St. Valéry was one of the greatest disasters ever experienced by the British Army, but it has been largely forgotten, and unlike Dunkirk it was not hailed as a “miracle”.

Although the setting is entirely in France, I was disappointed that the French atmosphere was overlooked. There was no description of the towns and villages, the cobbled streets and in particular the war torn landscape and the bombed houses. As a reader I would have wanted to sympathise with the local people. The story was exciting, but my senses were not stirred, and almost all the conversation takes place between British soldiers, and one French girl.