Review: Dress Rehearsal, by Quentin Reynolds

In August 1942, nearly two years before D-Day, Allied forces landed in France in large numbers. The Dieppe raid, which consisted mainly of Canadians, was considered a failure at the time. No permanent beachhead was established, nearly 100 RAF aircraft were downed, and something like a third of the Allied troops were killed, wounded or captured.

But Quentin Reynolds, an American journalist who was an eyewitness to the raid on board a British destroyer, wrote a powerful account of the raid, and his conclusion was that it was a dress rehearsal for something else. He was of course referring to Operation Overlord, the Allied landings at Normandy in June 1944.

Reynolds was a great journalist and wrote very well. This book is a kind of follow-up to his London Diary, which described the Blitz. One striking feature of the book is the merciless characterisation of the German enemy. Reynolds quoted Lord Lovat, a British Commando officer, saying: “My job is kill Germans … I do not regard men who have already killed about 50,000 civilians in Britain as anything but beasts, so I do not feel I am committing murder when I kill them.” Reynolds himself, describing the shooting down of a German aircraft, described it like this: “It was a lovely site if you hate Germans, and I hate Germans.”

The immediacy of the writing, aimed at the audience of that day with no thought of posterity, makes books like these into virtual time machines. Writing in London in early 1943, Reynolds transports us back to a very dark and dangerous time, when no one knew for certain how it would all turn out.