Over the decades I have read ever so many books about the Second World War. Most have been by professional journalists or by the military top brass who have written about their own experiences. I have just finished what must be one of the best autobiographies I have read which has the Second World War as a backdrop. This is “Train To Nowhere” by Anita Leslie, a young lady from a well to do aristocratic Anglo-Irish family who was distantly related to Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. In 1940, aged 26 she joined the Mechanised Transport Corps where she became a qualified mechanic and ambulance driver, to do her bit for the war effort.
Anita first served in the Middle East seeing action in Libya, Syria and Palestine where her experiences included tending to the wounded from the battle of El Alamein. She volunteered to edit The Eastern Times which was meant for the troops to enable her to stay on in North Africa. Here she had the opportunity to go to distant locations and meet the troops who were hungry for news of the war effort. In those days, the British Army did not allow women to be in the front line so Anita joined the Red Cross. This move enabled her to see action in Italy in 1944 where the Fascists were collapsing after the Battle of Monte Cassino which left thousands of Allied soldiers maimed and wounded.
Not being satisfied with service in two fronts, North Africa and Italy, Anita wanted to be where the action was, the invasion of mainland Europe. She volunteered to serve the Free French Forces as an “ambulancier” (ambulance driver) and fought with them till the momentous day in 1945 when she witnessed the grand Victory parade in Berlin. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre, for heroism in battle in the face of the enemy by General de Gaulle. Her experiences included caring for the survivors of newly liberated Nazi concentration camps and she writes with feeling about the miserable conditions in which these unfortunates were found.
She writes with compassion and a dry sense of humour about what she saw and experience in these war years. She describes so eloquently the myriad of emotions she saw in others – from the lowliest soldier to top ranking military and political leaders amongst the British and the French as they experienced abject defeat in the beginning of the war ending in 1945 with a glorious victory.
A must read for those interested in military history. I am glad this book which was originally published in 1948 soon after the War has been recently re-published, allowing a new generation of readers to re-live those days through her book.