Churchill’s Thin Grey Line

July 30, 2018
Posted by: Andy Field

CHURCHILL’S THIN GREY LINE:
BRITISH MERCHANT SHIPS AT WAR 1939-1945
by Bernard Edwards

I suppose it was somewhat cynical of me to think that the publishers had attached Churchill’s name and illustration on the dust jacket purely to ‘cash in’ on the recent film. But apart from a quote at the start of the book, a photo caption of the merchant ship Rose Castle and mention of a ‘Winston Special’ convoy, there’s nothing else to link Bernard Edwards’ book with Winston Churchill.
I’ve seen another reviewer write that Pen and Sword are a variable publisher. Some of their offerings are well worth the read, others seem to be printed to see if they’ll sell, and if not, they’re pulped. I can’t help feeling that this is one of the latter types of book.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad book in itself, I just don’t think that it adds much to the story of the war at sea, unlike, say Jonathan Dimbleby’s book on the Battle of the Atlantic, or Richard Woodman’s The Real Cruel Sea. It’s what I regard as a “Dad Book”, the sort of book my dad would borrow from the library. I read it in two afternoons, recovering from a virus. It’s that sort of undemanding book, with 19 chapters, each dealing with the sinking of a merchant ship, from Athenia on the first day of the war, to the Avondale Park, sunk on 7 May 1945, after the official end of the war. And I’ve got to say, the chapters are well written, if inevitably very similar.
There’s no doubt that each chapter left me full of admiration for the men of the Merchant Navy, in awe as to how they faced the perils of their war of sea. But that wasn’t a new feeling; I’d previously felt that after reading Woodman’s book in particular.
That, I suppose is the point of my review. It’s one to borrow, not buy. Telling these stories is worthwhile in itself, I’m just not certain whether this is the best book for that purpose. By all means, if you have a couple of afternoons that need filling, and are in your local library, at a loss as to what to borrow, then this may be the book for you. My personal opinion though is that if you want to learn about the men of the Merchant Navy and their war, there are more informative books out there.

Andy Field