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Supreme Courage by Sir Peter De La Billiere

Supreme Courage - Sir Peter De La Billiere

Supreme Courage - Sir Peter De La Billiere

As I am currently looking through the London Gazette’s online records of Victoria Cross citations, I thought it would be both topical and appropriate, given the closeness to Remembrance Day, to take a look at one of the many books focussing on Britain’s highest award for gallantry.

Sir Peter, or DLB, needs no introduction. A long-serving SAS officer, commander of British Forces in the Gulf and highly decorated himself, he is one of Britain’s most high profile Generals of modern times, long before Mike Jackson and Richard Dannatt. Therefore not only is he well entitled to write about heroism from the first hand- unlike, say Lord Ashcroft – but his name on the cover of a book will always inspire interest.

DLB tells some fascinating stories in this book. Some of them are well known, such as Noel Chavasse and Guy Gibson, and will be a quick recap to most people with an interest in military history. Some of them are not so well known, such as David Wanklyn and Albert Ball. But all of the cases included in the book are treated in context – their lives before and after the VC. Selecting VC winners to write about must be impossible – there are so many deserving cases.

One aspect where DLB really adds to our understanding, is the multinational and multicultural element of the Victoria Cross. The VC has been won by many Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Indians, Gurkhas, and men from many other backgrounds. War can be a leveller as a human experience, and provides the same potential for tragedy and heroism to all men, regardless of race, colour or creed.

In taking this broader approach, DLB adds to our understanding of courage and heroism, and also our understanding of human nature and ourselves. What is it about human beings that makes such feats possible? Drawing on expert analysis by Lord Moran, and citing examples from his own career, DLB takes us away from a simple ‘this is what happened’ narrative. This is essentially a social history, a valuable addition to any military library.

If you like this, you might also like:

Warriors – Max Hastings
The Anatomy of Courage – Lord Moran

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Remembrance, victoria cross