review-blowing-our-bridges
Blowing Our Bridges: A Memoir From Dunkirk to Korea via Normandy
Tony Younger
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Blowing Our Bridges is the aptly titled war memoir of career Royal Engineer officer (he retired a Major General) Tony Younger.  The author’s account begins with his military training prior to the Second World War and continues through Dunkirk and Normandy, post-war interludes in Burma and insurgent Malaya, and concludes with his service in Korea in 1951.

Younger writes directly to his military experiences and devotes few pages to his family or childhood.  Within a chapter the newly commissioned subaltern is posted to France with the British Expeditionary Force in command of a sapper section.  After hastily learning the art of bridge demolition “on the job” Younger finds himself part of the great retreat to Dunkirk, escaping to England onboard a Royal Navy destroyer.  After rest and reassignment Younger is posted to take part in secret anthrax tests in Scotland before being transferred to command a squadron of AVRE tanks for the Normandy landings.  After recovering from injuries received shortly after D-Day, Younger returns to the front to take part in the Rhine crossing, this time delivering commandos by LVT under German shellfire.

Younger ends the war a major and is enrolled in the Staff College at Camberley.  Upon completion he is posted briefly to Burma by way of India before being assigned to command a new engineering school in Malaya.  Here he works alongside the Ghurkhas while assassinations and terrorist attacks disrupt British plans for a smooth transfer of power to local leaders.  Returning to England, and further education at Cambridge, family life is upset by the outbreak of the Korean War in 1951.  After quickly working up a squadron of combat ready sappers, Younger is sent to Korea just prior to the Chinese intervention.  Beyond building and destroying bridges and repairing roads, Younger’s men find themselves on the frontline in the battles around Gloster Crossing.  Amidst the fighting a transfer to the US Army Staff College comes through and the author finds himself, unexpectedly, on a plane home.

Younger’s memoir is thoughtful, well written and for the most part, candid.  Some level of self-censorship is apparent in that certain memories of war are consciously avoided while others are emphasized to reveal the horrors of modern war.  Younger’s encounters with death and premonitions of death in Korea are particularly personal and affecting.  The author’s range of experience adds greatly to the memoir’s appeal, having retreated from the continent at Dunkirk only to return at Normandy and ultimately cross the borders of the Reich.  His account of commanding AVRE tanks and LVT’s is certainly unusual in recent war memoirs.  Even more remarkable is his eyewitness account of Britain’s early anthrax tests.  Regrettably, the number of pages devoted to his Second World War experience is rather limited, at approximately one hundred pages, or half of the book.  To be sure, Younger’s account of the war is memorable and engaging, yet sadly abbreviated.  For instance there is little information given as to the nature of his engineer training as an officer candidate or to the role of the sappers he commanded in the field.  The inclusion of additional detail would have helped to fill out an otherwise excellent account.

The author’s post-war experiences are far from an addendum to his military service up to VE Day.  In addition to describing Regular Army life after the war Younger is witness to the tangled political situation in the British colonial possessions of Southeast Asia.  However, it is the war in Korea that dominates this period Younger’s career.  Here the description of life in the combat zone is more immediate and visceral.  It is here that fear and death have a deeper resonance both for the author and for the reader.

Blowing Our Bridges has much to offer the student of history or general reader.  Major General Younger was involved in some of the greatest events in modern history and he is to be commended for adding his memoir to the growing body of literature on the Second World War and the Korean Conflict.  Minor criticisms aside it is a rewarding read.

(Reviewed by K.H. Roberts)

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