Never Surrender | John Kelly on Churchill and Britain in 1940

Never Surrender : Winston Churchill and Britain’s Decision to Fight Nazi Germany in the Fateful Summer of 1940 is popular historian John Kelly’s account of a critical year during. 1940 was the  year when Hitler advanced across Europe and Churchill succeeded Chamberlain as British Prime Minister.

Drawing extensively on official and private sources, Kelly captures the confusion, disbelief, doom and stoicism of the time.  In the opening chapter he recaps events from the end of the first World War to Hitler’s rise. He conveys the sense of stillness before a storm. We see ordinary people going about every day tasks, alert to imminence of war. The Great War is alive in their memory and adds to their fear for the future.

Political focus

After the first chapter, Never Surrender zones in on the decisions that faced Britain in 1940. It largely focuses on the politics of the period. Kelly concentrates on the men and women whose decisions determined the fate of their nation. He skilfully weaves the details of this political story with behind the scenes colour. In this way, he colourfully illustrates process that led to Churchill succeeding Chamberlain as Prime Minister.

Kelly allows the sources — official and private — to convey the views of Churchill’s supporters and detractors. This gives the reader an insight into Churchill’s motivation and decision-making.

In the later chapters, the inclusion of brief quotes from Churchill’s speeches shows how skilfully the Prime Minister used language to influence and lead opinion. It was perhaps not surprising that in 1953, Churchill won the Nobel Prize for literature.

While the events of 1940 will be broadly familiar to many readers, as indeed are many of the personalities — Chamberlain, Churchill, Lloyd George and Joe Kennedy to name but a few — Kelly’s detail and storytelling ability make Never Surrender a fascinating read. It should appeal to anyone with an interest in Churchill and Britain’s WW2 history.

Never Surrender is an extensively annotated work. Despite the meticulous detail, however, the annotation in no way distracts from a fascinating read.

Never Surrender : Winston Churchill and Britain’s Decision to Fight Nazi Germany in the Fateful Summer of 1940 by John Kelly i published by Scribner, October 2015

[Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of Never Surrender via Netgalley]

If you like Never Surrender, you might also like The Graves are Walking by John Kelly.