Whicker’s War – by Alan Whicker

Posted by Andrew: 

There is something about war that brings into focus the extremes of the human capacity for experience. Perhaps it’s the immediacy of mortality, the unfamiliarity of foreign things, or the camaraderie. I suspect it’s a little of each and more besides.

In Whicker’s War Alan Whicker recounts how he was tasked with capturing such moments on film. Joining the Army Film and Photo Unit as an 18-year-old army officer, he went on to follow the Allied advance through Italy, from Sicily to Venice. He filmed the troops on the front line, met Montgomery, and other military luminaries, filmed the mutilated body of Mussolini after his execution and facilitated the surrender of the SS in Milan.

In this last example, he entered the city alone, ahead of any other allied forces, and found himself stood between a mob of angry Italian partisans and the SS headquarters, filled with Hitler’s elite, ready for one last stand. This moment is seemingly typical of Whicker’s war; caught between two opposing forces armed with little more than a camera, existing both within and without. He provides us with a deeply personal account of life on the Third Front. He reaches beneath the statistics and offers portraits of his own friends, many of whom lie in Italy still.

Whicker also withdraws to offer us a broader understanding of the tactical aspects of the war’s advance across North Africa and up through Italy. He doesn’t shy away from offering his opinions of the generals under which the allied forces served. “If General Mark Clark had been in the German army, Adolf Hitler would have had him shot.” He deals with the caprice of war with dark humour or moral outrage, wherever fitting. One sees in him still the soldier who once had to put on a brave face while the walls around him shook with artillery and he wondered if he might be driven into the sea by the surrounding Wehrmacht.

Whicker flits with ease between poignancy, humour and indignation; seemingly reliving the emotions of 60 years ago anew. He writes with a simple beauty, knowing the power of his subject.

“One gravely-injured young officer at a field hospital had been waiting all day on a stretcher and, as a doctor hurried by, asked quietly if his injuries could be treated. The doctor saw instantly that there was no hope for him, so said gently, ‘I’m afraid we’re not quite ready for you yet.’ The young officer nodded. ‘I understand,’ he said, and closed his eyes.”

The overriding impression left by Whicker’s War is of the war’s enduring relevance. Those he photographs are no different from ourselves or those we know. They might have the same sense of humour, ambitions or pastimes. Yet they are plucked from their homes and sent to Italy where, amongst Renaissance architecture and beautiful scenery, they must fight an ugly war. And for many, what remains of them is pooled in a dark room: A memory captured in a photograph.


Read this Book…
With a sense of gratitude.


This book is a… Grizzly Reads/Epic Reads/Travels in Time


Genre: Memoir
Paperback ISBN: 9780007205080
ebook ISBN: 9780007352777


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If you liked this, then you’ll love…
Alan Whicker – Journey of a Lifetime
Giles Whittell – Spitfire Women of World War II
James Holland – Heroes: The Greatest Generation and The Second World War