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From A Library: War Stories Vol. 1

Garth Ennis’ War Stories Vol. 1

Johann’s Tiger (with Chris Weston) reminds me of the film Cross of Iron, both being about German officers who have had their fill of the war and are trying to protect their squads. However, this story admits our protagonist’s guilt in the atrocities on the Eastern Front, and is a powerful tale of loyalty and honour among men and the horror of war, told through an eloquent inner monologue.

D-Day Dodgers (with John Higgins) tells a story about Lieutenant Ross joining the Antrim Rifles in Italy after D-Day, under the command of Captain Lovatt (‘an enormously disappointed Catholic’) and Sergeant Major Dunn, where the battles are being fought by generals worried more about headlines rather than the men fighting them. The title refers to what the troops in Italy were called by Lady Astor (although she denied it), despite the fact that the conditions of fighting through Italian winters were horrific and the fighting bloody and obstinate. The last pages of the story are full-page spreads of the doomed battle for the regiment, accompanied by the anonymously written ‘The Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers’, and is both harrowing and heroic simultaneously.

Screaming Eagles (with Dave Gibbons) refers to the nickname for Easy Company, 655th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. After D-Day, the sergeant and the three troops who survived the landings and subsequent skirmishes with him are sent by a callous lieutenant to take charge of a house nearby for an incoming general and his staff. As the they go about their duty and discover they can have a few days of R&R in the discovered mansion, there are single pages remembering the troops who died in their advance through France and the horrific ways they died. The sergeant is sick of the army, with the generals giving orders when they don’t know or understand everything, while the sergeants run things because the whole thing would collapse without them, and we feel that the soldiers are fully justified in their temporary AWOL status.

Nightingale (with Dave Lloyd) is the most tragic of the four tales, as it relates the story of the HMS Nightingale and its crew. Having survived by default the destruction of a convoy they were escorting through stupidity of faulty intelligence regarding a feared destroyer, the crew feel responsible, even though they are not to blame. Escorting another convoy, they go to the rescue of an escort ship caught in an oil fire, only to be attacked by an Italian cruiser that will damage the convoy and the escorts if they don’t intercede. Despite being hit, they fight off a ship twice their size, saving the ships but at the cost of their own. This is a particularly intense and moving tale of courage in the face of adversity.

All these tales are fictional but based on fact, as Garth likes to read about war. The artists also base the stories in reality and bring real power to the renditions of ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Even Garth’s afterword is moving, as he recounts the stories that inspired these narratives. This is exceptional work from an author who seems to reach another level when telling accounts of war, make you feel the humanity in the midst of so much inhumanity.

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