Review of ‘The Long Way Home’, by Les Pipe

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 15th October 2001, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Les Pipes
ISBN 0903463-64-4 (2001)

This is the latest title in the 'Local Lives' series published by Derbyshire Libraries & Heritage Department. There are no disappointments in these reminiscences of Derbyshire people, all enriched with local and national history. The stories are published uncorrected, as related by their authors, making for a rare intimacy between author and reader.

Les Pipes may consider his story to be that of 'an ordinary soldier's war' but no story was ordinary in World War Two, especially for a young man who was called up just before his 21st birthday and within weeks found himself a German prisoner-of-war, a wounded one at that. Les heard the cheerless promise, 'For you the war is over' long before it passed into the movies.

In reality this statement was far from true and dreadful times lay ahead. They began with a journey shackled in a cattle truck, a meal of grass soup en route, destination Central Poland and several years in various stalags. Anecdotes are recalled in low-key style and exclamation marks are pleasingly absent, however momentous these events must have been at the time, for instance when the German captors - 'cock-a-hoop' - turned up their radios so the soldiers could hear reports of the evacuation of Dunkirk. Or the German officer who woke them up in the middle of the night to gloat that the Luftwaffe had flattened Coventry. It was not that easy to demoralise the Tommies, even when they learned what was going on at Auschwitz, thirty miles from their POW camp.

The final chapter sees hundreds of prisoners on the march as the Russian army advances into Poland but still the author's modest style allows no exaggeration of the hardships and loss of life. Neither does he seem at all surprised to find himself in a queue for coffee and doughnuts dished out by Marlene Dietrich. She would have given him a kiss for his watch but that had already gone in what he considered a better deal.

Down to earth to the last, Les Pipes takes us all the way home before signing off with a bitter-sweet postcript and a chapter not quite closed.

Review by Julie Bunting

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