Fight Another Day by J.M. Langley [Book Review]
Fight Another Day has been sitting on my shelf for years, right next to MI9 (which I only realised was co-authored by J M Langley). I’m not sure why it took me so long to get round to reading it. It fits my usual preferences in a number of ways. It’s a first hand accout by an infantry officer, it’s about escaping from a POW camp, it’s about organising secret agents to work in nazi-occupied Europe. Any one of those would have got Fight Another Day onto my to-read list.
Fight Another Day
Fight Another Day tells the story of Jimmy Langley from his enlistment in the special reserve of the Coldstream Guards. He gets mobilised in August 1939 and goes to France, and we are treated with vignettes of the preparations. In the first chapter or two of Fight Another Day we meet the fellow officers of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards. Most of them are killed in the fighting in May. Langley ends up part of the rearguard and is severely wounded. Carried to an evacuation beach at Dunkirk he misses the ship because he cannot walk. Stretcher cases take up the room of four walking wounded, so he gets left behind.
Langley falls into enemy hands, and despite the best efforts of the British Army surgeon that is treating him he loses his left arm at the elbow. Despite this he still looks for ways to return home so that he can fight another day. With him in captivity is Airey Neave, the first British escaper to make a home run from Colditz. The early days of being a POW in 1940 were disorganised, and the wounded officers not well guarded. Langley literally walks out of the prison and then makes his way across France to Marseilles. En route he spends a few weeks in Paris and meets some people that will later become useful.
In Marseilles he meets the legendary Ian Garrow, and also others in the Seamen’s Mission. As one of the wounded officers he helped others to escape, and tried to fundraise to keep Garrow’s line in operation. Eventually Langley was chosen for repatriation, because he’d lost his arm. He crosses the Pyrenees openly and travels through Spain to Gibraltar where he gets a boat home. On returning home he isn’t certain what he’s going to do or even if he will be allowed to fight another day. While waiting to discover his fate he is invited to speak to the boys in the local borstal. Langley questions this but is told that his story will inspire the boys. The following evening eight of them escape!
Back in London a staff officer at Guards HQ tells Langley that he needn’t be invalided out if he doesn’t want to be. However he is summoned to SIS HQ after only five days and told that he will be working for Colonel Dansey.
Langley tells his tale with honesty and forthrightness. Fight Another Day is his personal perspective of the war, and the people he met. Some of them he didn’t get on with, and he tells us why. He’s not shy in expressing opinions. I especially liked his verdict on the 1940 deserters, their best contribution to the war effort was as a burden on the Germans as a POW. Others he made mistakes about, and again he explains it. This is a genuinely interesting tale of one man’s very eventful and influential war. Written 30 years afterwards Langley still has doubts about parts of it, but he is clear that it was worthwhile getting highly skilled and motivated service personnel back so that they could fight another day.