Alamein to Zem Zem

Keith Douglas, poet and author of the classic memoir Alamein to Zem Zem.

Keith Douglas, poet and author of the memoir Alamein to Zem Zem.

For the British the Battle of el Alamein was a great and significant victory. As Winston Churchill wrote after the war “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat.”. The Second World War, Volume IV : The Hinge of Fate.

Keith Douglas is now celebrated as one of the finest poets of World War II – for more on his poetry see Tim Kendall’s War Poetry blog. In addition to his poems and letters Douglas wrote just this one slim volume of prose. It must rank as one of the most telling personal memoirs of a battle in the English language.

Douglas disobeyed orders in order to join his regiment at the front line a few days after the battle had begun. He was welcomed back because there had already been so many casualties amongst his fellow officers. He writes vividly of the experience of battle as a tank commander during the battle of el Alamein and the following pursuit of Rommel’s forces all the way to Zem Zem.

Highly charged, violent descriptive prose … conveys the humour, the pathos and the literal beauty of that dead world of tanks, sand, scrub and human corpses … Comparable in descriptive power and intelligence to the books of Remarque, Sassoon and Blunden which spoke in similar terms of 1914-1918.

Spectator Magazine


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