The best war novels look beyond glory and victory to show the awful impact on the individual regardless of nationality

Who am I?

On D-Day 1944, three gliders carrying elite British soldiers landed to capture and hold the vital Pegasus bridge. In the first glider to land was my father, Ted Tappenden. Ted was one of several close relatives who served with distinction in WW2 including a naval officer and two fighter pilots. It was then no surprise when instead of following my grammar school direction to University, I volunteered instead to serve with the Parachute Regiment (my degree came later). My close connection with the military allowed me an insight into both the physical and mental strain and the awful consequences that might afflict those who serve and their nearest and dearest.


I wrote...

Pegasus to Paradise

By Michael Tappenden,

Book cover of Pegasus to Paradise

What is my book about?

Early hours 6th June 1944. An elite British glider-borne force successfully captures vital bridges in the first Allied assault of D-Day, the beginning of a long bloody slog across Europe. Few survive the war but one, Ted ‘Ham and Jam’ Tappenden, returns home apparently unscathed, and tries to settle into mundane life with his wife and family, but is haunted by the terrors of battle. Florrie is so relieved, but soon sees a distance in her husband, where once there was joy and passion. Neither can explain their suffering to anyone, least of all to each other.

Based on a true story, it shows the extraordinary efforts of ordinary people and a moving portrait of trauma, survival, and the power of love in post-war Britain. Published by Eden Park Publishing.

The books I picked & why

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All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Wesley Wheen (translator),

Book cover of All Quiet on the Western Front

Why this book?

Volunteering to join the British Army as I did and consequently serving with The Parachute Regiment, it would have been very easy as a young man to be wrapped up in the reputation, tradition, glory, and ceremony of that unit and to forget what duties you might be called upon to perform. Similar in fact to the character of Paul Baumer, the young idealistic German soldier, full of patriotism and eager to fight the foe in the trenches of WW1. The reality is horrifyingly different, as superbly described by the author from his own harrowing experiences on the Western Front. Paul quickly realises that the nationalism he has been sold is quite false. He is constantly surrounded by hunger, sickness, fear, and death, and that he and his young comrades are already either ‘old or dead.’ To make matters worse his return home on leave is emotionally destructive as nobody either understands or believes his experiences. He returns, empty to face the end.

This is I believe one of the finest books ever written on the subject of warfare. As a former serving soldier, this book reminds me of the dangers of uncontrolled nationalism and the horrors that can be unleashed if our leaders/politicians get it wrong. Be vigilant.

All Quiet on the Western Front

By Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Wesley Wheen (translator),

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked All Quiet on the Western Front as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story is told by a young 'unknown soldier' in the trenches of Flanders during the First World War. Through his eyes we see all the realities of war; under fire, on patrol, waiting in the trenches, at home on leave, and in hospitals and dressing stations. Although there are vividly described incidents which remain in mind, there is no sense of adventure here, only the feeling of youth betrayed and a deceptively simple indictment of war - of any war - told for a whole generation of victims.


The Cruel Sea

By Nicholas Monsarrat,

Book cover of The Cruel Sea

Why this book?

Again I have to admit a personal link to this book, having had two relatives who served in the Royal Navy during WW2, one of whom led a boarding party to capture a German U boat (but that’s another story). I certainly met him often and very occasionally you could see the effect of his wartime experiences in his words or actions. Like most who served, he rarely spoke about his experiences. 

The fact that the author of The Cruel Sea served as a naval reservist in WW2 certainly adds authenticity to this story. You know that this really is an accurate depiction.

The Cruel Sea is not about glamour or even heroes, but it is about grinding relentless exhaustion, about being soaked and freezing on an open bridge in Atlantic winter storms, about men’s strengths and weaknesses, searching day after day, night after night for a ruthless hidden enemy – the German U boat. It is about tedium, frustration, pain, anguish, and tenacity. This is about the dull pain of war at sea. This is about the long slog between rare and desperate actions. This is about the cruel sea and the mere men who tried to survive on her, serving their country, often unseen and unheard.

The Cruel Sea

By Nicholas Monsarrat,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Cruel Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on the author's own vivid experiences, The Cruel Sea is the nail-biting story of the crew of HMS Compass Rose, a corvette assigned to protect convoys in World War Two.

Darting back and forth across the icy North Atlantic, Compass Rose played a deadly cat and mouse game with packs of German U-boats lying in wait beneath the ocean waves.

Packed with tension and vivid descriptions of agonizing U-boat hunts, this tale of the most bitter and chilling campaign of the war tells of ordinary, heroic men who had to face a brutal menace which would strike without warning…


The Jacaranda Tree

By H.E. Bates,

Book cover of The Jacaranda Tree

Why this book?

This story, written in 1949, describes the escape of a small group of British and Burmese civilians from the invading Japanese during WW2 and seems perfect material for one of those British 1950s black and white films, showing the British temperament when facing total war – courage, resilience, snobbery, the perpetuation of the class system and petty rivalries even with the threat of a demanding landscape, and a brutal enemy closing in on them. As far as I know it never made the silver screen but you can have fun slotting actors of the time into the different characters.

The writer captures the vivid Burmese country, its taste and smell, its appalling heat and humidity from his own personal experiences and involves the reader in the hopes and fears of the escapees, urging them all on to safety. But who will make it? Who deserves to make it? Who doesn’t?

As a member of a United Nations Peacekeeping Force serving within a civil war, I witnessed the fear and trauma amongst the civil population. This experience taught me what the word ‘hate’ really means. This book beautifully describes the awful trauma of a civil population caught up in a brutal war.

The Jacaranda Tree

By H.E. Bates,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Jacaranda Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a reissue of Bates's acclaimed novel of Burma. During World War II, a small English community are forced to flee when Japanese forces invade Burma. Paterson, the manager of a rice-mill, organises the evacuation and takes with him his Burmese mistress and her young brother. The rest of the party take along their prejudices, their pettiness and their squabbles, and a small enclave of English insularity moves north through Burma. Inevitably, as the journey continues, bitterness, tension and insoluble conflict unfold...Inspired by Bates' period of service in the Eastern theatre of war, "The Jacaranda Tree" skillfully evokes the…


No Ordinary Pilot: One Young Man’s Extraordinary Exploits in World War II

By Suzanne Campbell-Jones,

Book cover of No Ordinary Pilot: One Young Man’s Extraordinary Exploits in World War II

Why this book?

This book is written about my uncle Bob Allen. He was a career RAF officer, not easy to know, quite distant and intimidating, and he had a secret.

This is a true story that lay deliberately hidden for fifty years until unearthed on his death by the author. I say deliberately because of the need – common-felt amongst survivors of war – to remain tight-lipped. Even when his hand-written memoirs were discovered, they had been written in the third person. But this is the story of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary times. He joined the RAF aged nineteen, was flying a Hurricane in dogfights that year, saw action in West Africa, in Normandy at D-Day, was shot down, presumed killed and captured by the SS. Interrogated by the Gestapo and sent to Stalag-Luft 3. In 1945, he suffered one of the infamous winter marches on which many POWs perished before being liberated by the Russians. This is just one man’s remarkable story. This is what one man amongst millions stoically and quietly endured in the name of freedom. Lest we forget.

The pilot in question was my uncle. Ordinary people in extraordinary times.

No Ordinary Pilot: One Young Man’s Extraordinary Exploits in World War II

By Suzanne Campbell-Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Ordinary Pilot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After a lifetime in the RAF, Group Captain Bob Allen, finally allowed his children and grandchildren to see his official flying log. It contained the line: 'KILLED WHILST ON OPERATIONS'. He refused to answer any further questions, leaving instead a memoir of his life during World War II.

Joining up aged 19, within six months he was in No.1 Squadron flying a Hurricane in a dog fight over the Channel. For almost two years he lived in West Africa, fighting Germany's Vichy French allies, as well as protecting the Southern Atlantic supply routes. Returning home at Christmas 1942, he retrained…


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows,

Book cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Why this book?

 Most war novels are concerned quite naturally with the actions of the participants. This story, written in retrospect, concerns itself with the impact on the civilian population.

As the only part of the UK occupied by Nazi Germany,  Channel Islanders experienced the constant demands and dangers of occupation. Post-war, these issues gradually surface again after an exchange of letters leads to a visit to the Society and its members by an interested writer, where slowly and gently the brutality, hardship, treachery, survival, courage, and dark secrets of wartime are once again reluctantly revealed. It is also a reminder of the power of human relationships and of the consequences that can arise when love is stronger than national interests.

It is also a novel that certainly makes you consider what your own actions might have been if you had been similarly tested.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The beloved, life-affirming international bestseller which has sold over 5 million copies worldwide - now a major film starring Lily James, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton 'I can't remember the last time I discovered a novel as smart and delightful as this one ... Treat yourself to this book, please - I can't recommend it highly enough' Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love To give them hope she must tell their story It's 1946. The war is over, and Juliet Ashton has writer's block. But when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of…


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