The Heat of Battle: The 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry
The Italian Campaign 1943-1945
Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the oral historian at the Imperial War Museum, and has published three regimental oral histories, of which this is one.  This book covers the history of the 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI), a unit that served throughout the war in the Mediterranean.

The book contains numerous pictures, including portraits of the main contributors, which is a nice touch.  Most of these are from the IWM library. There are a few maps, but my advise is to look for good maps elsewhere anyway.

On the whole this is a very good effort.  Peter Hart manages to let the veterans talk, and talk they do.  This is a good glimpse into the heart of a British infantry battalion, and a very interesting read.  There is little framework given between the quotes from the veterans, so it will be necessary to read up on the general course of the Italian campaign beforehand.  What is interesting is the short section on the battalion’s service in Greece after the Germans had left – a little known aspect of the war in the Med.

As a historical work analysing combat incidents, or telling us about how a battalion works, or what the 16th DLI achieved in particular, it is not very useful.  But my guess is that this was not what it was intended to do, and it achieves its primary purpose, of providing oral history, very well indeed.

The IWM should be commended for getting these books published, because they allow us to hear the voices of the veterans, telling us their story, without any embellishment.

(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)

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