Author spotlight - Bryn Evans

Posted on Monday 14th January 2013

Bryn Evans writes extensively across a range of categories, including business management, travel, sport, military history and fiction. The Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment Association has published a series of his articles over recent years, and while researching his book, With the East Surreys in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy 1942-1945, he has met veterans and their families world-wide, and visited many of the battlefields in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy. Bryn lives with his wife, Jean, in Sydney, Australia.

Bryn, how is this book on the East Surrey Regiment, different to many other books on the campaigns in North Africa and Italy in the Second World War?
In the book I have told the stories of the two East Surrey Battalions, 1st and 1/6th, through the voices of those that were there – so that the reader feels embedded with the front line troops. At the same time I have woven the Surreys’ engagements and veterans’ personal accounts, into the overall strategies, offensives and major battles of the campaigns. I do not know of another book which has done this at a battalion level, for the whole period of the Tunisian and Italian campaigns.

So does your book peer through the fog of war?
Yes, well I have used veterans’ stories within the context of the ebb and flow of the overall campaigns, so that an action to capture an obscure enemy-held mountain, makes sense to the reader. Of course it may not have done so to many of the men at the time.

What made you decide to cover the whole of these campaigns, a period of nearly three years, in a single book?
That’s how it was, nearly three years, for the Surreys and many other regiments. And I wanted to write this story not only for the military history enthusiast, but also for a broader audience. I have found that so many people know little about the Second World War in Tunisia and Italy.

Is there something which makes the Surreys unusual in some way?
In one sense the story brings to life the horrors and heavy casualties of typical front-line infantry battles. Yet the 1st Surreys for instance, were part of the 78th Battleaxe Division, which earned an elite reputation for mountain fighting, unique amongst Allied armies in Tunisia and Italy. The participants’ personal stories capture some of their thoughts and fears, their humanity, as they fought for seemingly every river and mountain.

In what way have you given the reader a feel of those times, and of being embedded in the battlefield actions and ordeals?
I interviewed a number of surviving veterans from the two Surreys Battalions, and my research uncovered unpublished accounts, diaries, reports and letters from officers and men in the Surreys’ front lines. Some personal accounts by Surreys veterans have been drawn from other published and authoritative sources, including the Regiment’s official records at the Surrey History Centre. A selection of extracts are used in the book as direct quotes and transcriptions. For example those taken from the unpublished ‘memoirs’ of Lieutenant Colonel John Woodhouse, and many others from all ranks, give you eye-witness accounts from the thick of it in momentous battles such as Tunisia’s Longstop Hill, the Sangro, Cassino, Anzio, the Gothic Line, and the Argenta Gap in Italy. They all make for gripping and enthralling reading.

Who was John Woodhouse, and why are his memoirs so important?
John Woodhouse was a young lieutenant, who led the 1st Surreys’ Battle Patrol in Tunisia and Italy. Later in the 1950s and 1960s he revitalised special forces’ training and tactics for the SAS in Malaya and Arabia. He became Lieutenant Colonel of 22 SAS, and is widely credited with saving the post-war SAS when it was in grave danger of being disbanded. Woodhouse was a man who never sought the limelight, yet his approach and influence made a profound contribution to the development of special forces, of the UK and its NATO and other allies over the last sixty years.

Bryn Evans, author of With the East Surreys in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy 1942-1945.

Would you say your book is more than just another history of the war in Tunisia and Italy in that it throws new insights onto the experience of a battalion and its men?
Yes, it does. The emphasis on the individuals who were there, and on some who are followed throughout the book, reveals a glimpse of their inner selves and personal struggles under fire, in the hell of the battlefield. Their stories speak to us of another time, a different atmosphere, and of a generation with perhaps more clearly defined obligations and values.

What else do you have coming up, are you working on any more military history projects at the moment?
I am writing a book on the decisive role of air power in these same campaigns in North Africa and Italy. But it begins earlier, some months before the battle of El Alamein. Its focus is on the RAF’s Desert Air Force, which gave the Allies a dominant cutting edge until the end in May 1945 in northern Italy.
The Desert Air Force was the first multi-national air force, comprising airmen and squadrons from UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. Completion and publication is tentatively scheduled for late 2013/early 2014.

Further Reading

With The East Surreys in Tunisia and Italy 1942 - 1945
(Hardback - 240 pages)
ISBN: 9781848847620

by Bryn Evans
Only £25.00

The East Surreys were in near continuous action from November 1942, when they landed in North Africa (Operation TORCH) through to the end of hostilities in May 1945. During these three years of bitter fighting they cleared the Germans from Tunisia, took part in Operation HUSKY, (the invasion of Sicily) and fought up through Italy as far as the River Po.

Trained as mountain troops, the East Surreys saw set piece and patrol action in the Atlas Mountains, on the slopes of Mount Etna and Monte Cassino,…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

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