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The Valliant

By: Sir John Smyth VC (573/35842)
Publisher: A R Mowbray Co Ltd ISBN: 264645103
(From the John Laffin Library)

Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis said of Sir john Smyth’s last book In This Sign Conquer ‘A unique work … exceedingly well written … a fascinating story which will be appreciated by historians and by the reading public alike.’ Sir John, a VC from the First World War, and in the Second Brigade Commander at Dunkirk and a Divisional Commander in Burma, now turns his attention from one rather specialised department of the Army to the gallantry of whole groups of men of the army, air force and navy.

The Black Watch at Ticonderoga, the Lancashire landings at Gallipoli, Q ships, the Dam Busters, the Royal Sussex at Cassino. Names and places which stir up memories of extraordinary courage and perseverance in the face of danger and defeat. Valiance shown by units-by individual men acting together as a corporate body-is the theme of this book.

The incidents chosen for inclusion all show occasions on which units faced danger, and in most cases suffered heavy casualties, for a cause in which they believed. The fact of victory or defeat has not weighed with the author. It is perhaps true to say that valour in the face of almost inevitable defeat, especially defeat of a whole group and not just of an individual, requires a special sort of courage. Nothing, as Field Marshal lord Montgomery has said, raises the morale of troops more than victory.

The fact that a number of VCs are mentioned in this book is purely incidental-as great occasions, whether of triumph or disaster, did attract this highest award for bravery in battle. The only connection between the incidents is the one word valiant. The incidents themselves range, in space and time over the Commonwealth and over the years. The title for the book taken from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: ‘The valiant never taste of death but once’.

June 2008


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