End of the Beginning

End of the Beginning

In End of the Beginning Tim Clayton and Phil Craig use the same techniques of oral history employed for their previous book. Finest Hour described the events of the first full year of the Second World War, 1940, highlighting the drama of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain by telling the story largely though the testimony of those who were there. End of the Beginning traces the desperate days from May to November 1942, as Rommel swept through north Africa in a seemingly unstoppable drive towards Cairo, only to be finally halted and defeated by Montgomery’s Eighth Army. The story of the desert war has been told often enough, most recently in John Bierman’s and Colin Smith’s excellent Alamein: War Without Hate, but the use of oral testimony makes End of the Beginning a particularly vivid account. It’s one thing to read a historian’s bird’s eye perspective on battle and quite another to follow, for example, a particular gun-crew in the desert as they struggle to make sense of the seeming chaos surrounding them.

The focus of End of the Beginning is always on north Africa, as indeed was the attention of Churchill and his generals at the time, but the authors also find room to record the experiences of both combatants and non-combatants elsewhere. A nurse working in a hospital on the besieged island of Malta. A US soldier caught up in the fiasco that was the raid on Dieppe. A young woman involved in the briefing of RAF bomber crews flying from airfields in Yorkshire. The strength of this often powerful and moving book lies in the glimpses it offers of ordinary men and women obliged to do their best in extraordinary, and bloody, times.

‘Impressive. Their “you are there” technique works powerfully in conveying the gut-wrenching fear of facing Rommel in the turret of a tank, or trying to evade a Stuka attack while manoeuvring an ammunition-packed merchantman en route to besieged Malta’

Sunday Times

‘Poignant . . . this is Britain bloodied and very nearly bowed’


‘In their bestselling book Finest Hour, historians Phil Craig and Tim Clayton used dramatic first-person testimony to tell the story of the Battle of Britain with an immediacy and excitement that won huge critical acclaim. End of the Beginning is an equally enthralling account of the desperate summer of 1942 . . . with masses of fascinating and revealing original material.’

Daily Mail

‘As with their earlier collaboration Clayton and Craig prove themselves adept at knitting together a range of personal narratives to present a worm’s eye view of history. The myriad human dramas are compelling . . . The action veers backl and forth from the skies over Germany to the bloody beaches of Dieppe and the deadly waters of the Mediterranean, [but] the struggle between the Desert Rats and the Afrika Korps forms the backbone of their study’

Eastern Daily Press

‘This is a splendid book, well worth reading along with official histories, for it puts many of the facts into the experience of ordinary men and women caught up in an unwanted but necessary war.’

Yorkshire Gazette and Herald

‘The first-person formula of a mosaic of stories gives a swashbuckling narrative feel to actions that sweep both through North Africa and Europe. It is a juggernaut of a book that never stops rolling, immediate in its impact and underpinned with great humour.’

Oxford Times

‘A matchless picture of a desperate year . . . It is magnificent.’

Western Daily Press


11th January 2015