Book Review
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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Mussolini His part in my downfall

This week I decided I should review a book from my own bookshelves, and “all major booksellers” be damned! There is an ISBN number, so it is traceable, and those web-based bookshops will no doubt be able to find you a copy.

Mussolini: His part in my downfall” (ISBN 0-7181-1738-7) was written by Spike Milligan, one of the original ‘Goons’ and his death in 2002 brought sorrow to many. Who can forget his description of Woy Woy, the town in Australia where his parents lived, as “God’s waiting room,” or “The world’s only above ground cemetery.” And “I’m not afraid of dying I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Or his famous epitaph which is on his tombstone “I told you I was ill.”

The book is the fourth in Milligan’s war series, all taken from his experiences in WWII. The first was “Adolf Hitler: My part in his downfall”, followed by “Rommel? Gunner Who?” then “Monty: His part in my victory” and finally this book, the fourth volume.

All of these books are written in the first person, giving the reader a very personal view of WWII. In his preface, Milligan counters a Clive James’ critique of one of his previous books as being “an unreliable history of the war.” Milligan wrote, “Well, this makes him a thoroughly unreliable critic,” and later, “I wish the reader to know that he is not reading a tissue of lies and fancies, it all really happened.” Unfortunately, it all did happen, and it does not take long discourses with someone who actually fought in that war to verify Milligan’s claims. The “Peter Principle” of promotion to the level of incompetency has many examples in Milligan’s book(s).

The very human level at the grassroots (or perhaps rather the mud roots) of the army is shown by Milligan, in all its droll and farcical nature. His unit spending all day reeling in a telephone line, to find that another battery was reeling one out! Or his description of air raids. “It was one of the entertainments of the war, a sort of early television.” “See anything last night?” “Smashin’ air raid on Naples.” “Are they going to repeat it?”

The book finishes with one of the most poignant and soul-searching descriptions of a person going through a nervous breakdown. The difference between this and the usual reports is that Milligan does this in the first person. A heart-wrenching personal description of what it was like to lose one’s grip on reality. This is made even more devastating as up till the last few pages you have been crying from laughing so much. It is difficult not to shed the final tear with Milligan as he labels himself as a PN (psychoneurotic) and sets the seal on himself as the tragic-comic.

If you are a fan of farce, a fan of the Goons, or even just someone who wants to understand a little more about the futility of war from someone’s personal angle, this book is for you. No, you may not borrow mine!