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The most literate 'brother'
on June 29, 2009
Love that title - well the `Parachute Infantry' part and I quite liked the book as well. It took me a little while to get into Webster's style or at least the point of view he takes but then I found it a very interesting read indeed. In fact the full reproductions of a number of Webster's amazingly detailed letters in the appendix were a real treat.
Webster was with the 506th Para Regt of the 101st Airborne. After a bit of bouncing around he ends up with `E' company and it was fascinating reading his take on the `Band of Brothers' exploits. Obviously his account was written a few decades before Ambrose and the subsequent TV series and it is quite evident that this was a primary source for those efforts. Note though, not all of the TV `Webster' is faithful to what is revealed in this book. If the series is of interest to you, there is much here to flesh out some of the stories and characters. I enjoyed making the connections.
Webster's account starts with the waiting for D-Day. He spends quite a bit of time being frustrated and stuffed around. It is very clear early on that Webster is a great cynic about military life. His attitude is ironic given his decision to volunteer. He recognises this and writes about the contradictions. His views are very interesting. He was a highly literate and thoughtful man and it is fascinating at times to read his thoughts on everything. Anyone who can write, "The night was a collie that barked and whirled around us, and we were the sheep, pushing together for warmth and courage" will do me. He makes routine things, like ratting through houses fascinating. The last quarter of the book, regarding the occupation, is surprisingly good value.
There is lots of combat, including some great stuff in the air prior to his two jumps. His D-Day revelations seem a bit short at first but he later reflects back on various events. The encounter and destruction of a battalion of 6th FJ is particularly eye opening. There is a lot more detail regarding his time in Holland, including his involvement (initially) with the fight on the Island. Webster has a great eye for detail and his descriptions are very vivid. Dialogue is sharp and the pages just flew. He only writes once about shooting a German soldier. Interestingly he doesn't dwell on this. Given his anti-army stance it is also intriguing that he shows no reluctance to kill. The incident with the wounded German on the river bank who they tried to kill with grenades is also quite revealing - Webster had planned to swim across and bayonet him! So some good combat accounts but very a few where Webster himself is pulling the trigger. He claims though to have been known as the worst shot in the company.
There is a lot to be fascinated by here. His cynicism towards the army stands out but he really shines when writing of his return to `E' Co after recovering from wounds. He is overjoyed to be back but jarred to learn of all the deaths in the Ardennes. No other author has captured the camaraderie and resultant pain so well. Webster's war was not as horrific as others here and though he was very much a combat soldier, he didn't reveal a lot of his own involvement and I've chopped a star off accordingly. Even so, I enjoyed this book so I'll hedge slightly and on balance, describe it as - `Quite highly recommended'