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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Mussolini - His part in my downfall

Sometimes a reviewer will receive many books at one time, but this does not mean that the works are significant in the history of book publishing. This week’s review is of a book that does have significant credibility. “Mussolini - His part in my downfall” was written by the late Spike Milligan (ISBN 0-7181-1738-7, Michael Joseph publishing 1978) and is a book that has endured, and outlived the author.
The book takes the form of a diary of D Battery, 56th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery, during World War II covering the time between September 23, 1943 and March 9, 1944, a little under six months, but for Spike Milligan, this was a lifetime of government authorized mania. In the penultimate paragraph, Milligan opines “God made gentle people as well as strong ones. Alas, for the war effort, I was a gentle one.” And so this book describes how a gentle one survives (almost) in a theatre of war.
The diary has all the humorous asides for which the Goons later became famous. Exchanges such as, “He’d been a regular for eleven years and had risen to the rank of Private. He was sweating on being downgraded,” but followed by, “At the bottom of a trench I spot a Scots Guard cap badge, several pieces of human skull with hair attached, and a curling snapshot of two girls…”
On the 9th of November, Milligan writes to his father, “Dear Dad, Nothing to report except World War 2. Writing this in a cave, so we haven’t come far from Neanderthal man, have we?”
Milligan describes the mindlessness of his occupation in a war, one day his group is winding in wireless cable, finding that another group has been laying out the same cable. And all the way through, the zany humour to attempt to distance himself psychologically, “Why do wars always have to be so bloody early, it’s always 0400, 0500 - 0500!! What’s wrong with 11.30? Eh? Who feels like fighting at bloody dawn? A man is much braver at 11.30!”
Eventually, despite organizing concerts to keep up the morale of his fellow soldiers, Milligan collapses mentally and is taken off active duty, and becomes a “PN” (psychoneurotic) where he is then treated by an army psychiatrist with heavy, early tranquillizers and invalided out of the Royal Artillery. Thus the title for this book “Mussolini - His part in my downfall”, Milligan having previously written “Adolf Hitler - My part in his downfall” (and also worth reading).
The book remains as an indictment of our society, one in which we think we are the zenith, and yet, we are so far from being civilized animals that the lessons shown by Spike Milligan have all been ignored. The continued oppression and killings - Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Darfur and Iraq demonstrates the brutality of mankind. We pride ourselves on being at the top of the food chain, but reading Milligan’s book shows that we do not know what to do with our so-called knowledge. Long out off print, you will, however, be able to trace one down through Amazon. It is well worth it.