Tuesday 25 May 2021

#BlogTour #WartimeClassics Sword of Bone by Anthony Rhodes

It's my turn on the BlogTour Sword of Bone by Anthony Rhodes, it's another novel in the Wartime Classics series by the Imperial War Museum. Sword of Bone by Anthony Rhodes will be on sale 20th May 2021; cost £8.99. It is published by IWM and can be pre-ordered at their online shop here: https://shop.iwm.org.uk/wartime-classics 

In May 2021, IWM will publish two more novels in their Wartime Classics Series which was launched in September 2019 to great acclaim, bringing the total number of novels in the series to ten. Each has been brought back into print to enable a new generation of readers to hear stories of those who experienced conflict first hand.

IWM Senior Curator, Alan Jeffreys, has written an introduction to each book that provides context and the wider historical background. He says, ‘researching the Wartime Classics has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my years at IWM. It’s been very exciting rediscovering these fantastic novels and helping to bring them to the wider readership they so deserve’.

About the Author

Anthony Rhodes (1916 – 2004) served with the British Army in France during the so-called ‘Phoney War’ and was evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940. In the latter part of the war he was sent to Canada as a camouflage officer and was invalided out of the Army in 1947 having served for 12 years.

After the conflict he enjoyed a long academic and literary career and wrote on various subjects, including the 1956 Hungarian Revolution for the Daily Telegraph and well-regarded histories of the Vatican. 

About the book

First published in 1942, Sword of Bone is a lightly fictionalised memoir based on Anthony Rhodes’ own experiences during the Second World War – firstly during the so-called ‘Phoney War’ from 1939 – 40, followed by the terror of the evacuation of Dunkirk. Shortly after war was declared, he was sent to France serving with the British Army where his days were filled with billeting, friendships and administration – the minutiae of Army life. 

Apart from a visit to the Maginot Line, the conflict seems a distant prospect. It is only in the Spring of 1940 that the true situation becomes clear – the Belgian, British armies and some French divisions are ‘now crowded into a small pocket in the North of France’. The men are ordered to retreat to the coast and the beaches of Dunkirk where they face a desperate and frightening wait for evacuation.

The ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk was a brilliantly improvised naval operation that extracted more than 338,000 men from the Dunkirk beaches and brought them safely back to England. Some 850 vessels, including channel steamers and fishing boats, took part in this, Operation ‘Dynamo’. The final pages of the novel outline Rhodes’ experiences of the chaos of the evacuation where the scenes are depicted in vivid and terrifying detail.


I think what Rhodes does really well and in a very subtle way is create the actual comparison between the Phoney war and the complacent attitude, and the horrific reality when the war started in earnest. A day in life gives a Kodak moment of life for men who created bonds, friendships, but were unaware of what was heading their way.

Around 850 vessels took part in Operation Dynamo and managed to  extract more than 338000 men. I agree with Alan Jeffreys that the whole idea of the evacuation, and the way civilians and military men came together in such a brave way, was quintessentially British. 

Rhodes not only pinpoints the way the men experienced those days, but also how it happened. The strategic importance of the troops being funneled into a small vulnerable area and why the Germans were determined to achieve their objective. He also shines a light on the bravery of those people who would not be deterred by danger, trauma and even military orders. Returning over and over again to save men trapped in a no win and almost certain death situation.

More importantly the silent desperation of the men on the beach being ordered to queue up and wait their turn - very British - and the occasional disruptions. All of this sounds so normal and indeed Rhodes describes it with an almost unnatural calm, which I guess you can when you're writing it and are no longer in the moment. The truth is they were under constant attack and seeing their fellow comrades be killed.

Rhodes has a writing voice with a certain calmness and factual element to it, which lends itself to understanding and envisaging everything without the emotional layer, however one does wonder whether it's because he managed to take a step back from the trauma he also must have endured.

Buy Sword of Bone at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Published in Paperback 20th May 2021 - £8.99. Buy at Amazon com.

On the Imperial war Museum - IWM

IWM (Imperial War Museums) tells the story of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War.

Our unique collections, made up of the everyday and the exceptional, reveal stories of people, places, ideas and events. Using these, we tell vivid personal stories and create powerful physical experiences across our five museums that reflect the realities of war as both a destructive and creative force. We challenge people to look at conflict from different perspectives, enriching their understanding of the causes, course and consequences of war and its impact on people’s lives.

IWM’s five branches which attract over 2.5 million visitors each year are IWM London, which will open extensive new Second World War and The Holocaust Galleries in autumn 2021; IWM North, housed in an iconic award-winning building designed by Daniel Libeskind; IWM Duxford, a world renowned aviation museum and Britain's best preserved wartime airfield; Churchill War Rooms, housed in Churchill’s secret headquarters below Whitehall; and the Second World War cruiser HMS Belfast.

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