22 MARCH 1946, Page 22

Desert Heroes

Born of the Desert. By Malcolm James. (Collins. 126. 6d.)

IN his modest account of great deeds by men who spent a con- siderable part of the war behind the enemy's lines, Dr. Malcolm James gives a most attractive insight into the characters of such men. He was doctor to the Special Air Service which was trained and organised in 1941 by David Stirling and Jock Lewis to raid air- fields and communications far in the enemy's rear. He suggests that the motive of the volunteer is to give himself the chance of proving himself and satisfying doubts of conscience. All men have this conscience, but it is given only to the few to have the selflessness to stride out into the battle and, by themselvesundertaking the combat that has to be done by someone, to satisfy its insistence. The reward is, more than anything else, the tremendous sense of fellowship that exists among men who have dedicated themselves to dangerous tasks, a fellowship that is touched on by the ordinary soldiers who have- been wounded by the same shell, or by the neighbours in a London street shattered by a bomb.

Reading this very good book one is struck forcibly by the un- assuming modesty of these men. It pervaded their lives. It even showed itself in the Special Air Service Commanding Officer's official reports, which claimed only two-thirds of the known aircraft destroyed on airfields in order that inevitably exaggerated accounts of their successful operations by enthusiasts in the base area would bring the figures up to the right level. In this way there was no fear of the Special Air Service getting the reputation of claiming more than had been achieved. Perhaps it is this innate sense of modesty that accounts for Dr. James not providing his maps with scales, for the ordinary reader's knowledge of North Africa is not defined enough for him to realise that those dotted lines which show the route of the raiding parties represent journeys of a thousand miles and more behind the enemy's front line.

Indescribable discomforts and dangers were met and overcome by the parties making these raids, and the narrative gains force by the severe economy of effect that the author emplSys. It is a narrative of British heroism which takes its place alongside that of Scott ;

and Dr. James handles it very, very well. NIGEL TANGYB.