This Review contains spoilers
Beyond Band of Brothers is a first-hand account of World War Two told through the eyes of an American who fought it. Richard Winters, born and raised in Pennsylvania was 24 when he enlisted in August 1941, motivated both by a sense of duty and a fear of the draft board.
He volunteered for the paratroops, ending up in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment- the famous ‘Band of Brothers’ portrayed in the book and TV series of the same name. Parachuting into Normandy on D-Day, he later fought in Holland and Belgium and helped capture Hitler’s Eagles nest in Austria. He ended the war with the rank of Major and Battalion commander.
In this book Winters offers his thoughts and opinions on his wartime service, revealing untold stories and offering a fresh perspective on previously told events. It makes for a flawed but enjoyable read, that will be of great interest to anyone who has read the books or seen the TV series about the men he lead in World War 2.
Winters was assisted by Colonel Cole Kingseed in the editing, but there is no explanation given about his role in the process nor any indication another man was involved, it’s not necessarily a problem but does pose several questions about Winters validity as an Author.
The book starts with an Authors Preface and Foreword setting out Winter’s thoughts. It’s an honest, easy to follow introduction that does little to burden the book and sets the tone well for the account that follows. It also acts as an introduction to Winters writing style-relaxed, personal and surprisingly brutal at points; he was after all in his late 80’s when it was published, and had had a long life to think about his actions.
The book is divided into 4 parts covering different stages of Winters experience: Birth and enlistment through to D-Day minus 1, D-Day through to Holland, His promotion to Battalion Staff to V-E Day, and Occupation duties through to his return home. Each is further divided into chapters, it makes the book a largely easy to follow read. Occasionally Winters jumps ahead in the narrative to reference future events, its unnecessary, and annoying as it disrupts the flow of an otherwise well laid out book.
There are several photographs included; although many of the photographs have been reproduced from previous books on the company, several are from Winters own collection reinforcing the personal nature of the book, it’s almost unnerving to match the faces of the men in the text with the young men in the photographs of almost Seventy years ago.
There are however no illustrations, whilst many people reading this book are likely to have at least some knowledge of the campaign In North West Europe, others will be at a complete loss at the multitude of place names and the numerous movements of the 101st Airborne. It’s a flaw that could have been easily fixed, even a single annotated map would have helped break up the text and make it a less confusing read, but it was a problem that didn’t cross the minds of either editor. It isn’t the only flaw with the book.
Whereas Band of Brothers focussed on the stories of a whole unit and was under pressure to be financially successful, this book doesn’t face either problem, and isn’t necessarily better for it.
Winters is telling his own story so does occasionally come across as arrogant, or bad tempered, it is clear he disliked some of fellow soldiers intently, and after all these years still has some very negative opinions about his wartime service. He shows a very intimate portrait of what he chooses to, and a limited portrait of other areas. This may come as a shock to readers who trust the rather saintly way Steven Ambrose portrayed him in his books, but by being so Honest Winter’s gives the book more impact, and makes it a largely engrossing read. Although others may find his writing style a little too personal, and struggle to accept his biased approach.
There is a lot of New Information contained in this book, which hadn’t been covered in the TV series or previous books. Winters goes into extensive detail about many men, officers and enlisted who weren’t mentioned before, and expands on previously referenced events. For fans of the previous books or TV series, this will be enjoyable reading though not everything included is completely relevant.
It sometimes seems like Winters forgets he’s writing for other people, there is regular mention of a DeEtta Almon, whether a friend, girlfriend or relative is never made completely clear, and her appearances are often so brief they don’t really merit inclusion. Winters often stops the narrative and goes off on a tangent, it may prove annoying reading for some, used to more conventional layouts. In any case it does make the book an occasionally confusing read.
We learn about his early life and influences growing up in rural Pennsylvania, and his first few months in the army before joining easy company (despite his widely known pride in Commanding E Company, he classifies this period a his most enjoyable in the US Army), it is deeply personal, and is one of the most interesting areas of the book.
Towards the end of the book Winters goes into detail about his Occupation duties in France in late 1945, in contrast to his optimistic, youthful views to the early chapters, Winter’s paints a image of an exhausted man embittered and forever changed by his wartime experiences, it makes a very interesting read, realising the changes that have taken place, and realsing how they have marked on his personality.
While billeted in England, he shared a house with an elderly English couple, The Barnes’s, his relationship with them is often mentioned in the book, and provides a welcome addition, proving an interesting insight into the wartime relationship between American Soldiers and British civilians.
First Published in 2006 (This review is based on the 2011 Ebury Press edition) it includes an epilogue, detailing Winters post war career, and the lives, and deaths of some of his wartime comrades, an interesting, but sobering read, it ties up many of the loose ends from the series and does intrude on the main body of the text.
Whilst there is a lot of new information, and despite Winters foreword giving a different impression, a significant proportion of the book is merely re-treading ground already covered by other authors, Winters even references Ambrose’s book at several points in the narrative. He doesn’t have Ambrose’s skills as a writer, or an historian, and tells his story largely at his own level, for some readers there simply may not be enough additional material to merit the cost. There isn’t actually that much material in any case, the book is short, being only 280 pages in length, and it feels short, Winters often covering months in matter of pages.
There is little insight into the wider picture, with limited discussion of the why’s and how’s of the wider war in Europe. Those looking for an insight into Military tactics and the politics of battle will find only limited examples here, and are better off looking elsewhere.
The book presumes on the reader’s part at least some knowledge of World War Two, and Easy Companies story and for the casual reader may prove a confusing, or frustrating read. It is written from an American prospective, and in American English, so for Brits, or other readers it may prove harder to access or enjoy Winters story.
In conclusion Beyond Band of Brothers is simultaneously too short and in need of a tighter edit, it has other flaws, and can’t really justify an expensive purchase. But at a reasonable price (or rented from a local library) there is enough new content, and a largely enjoyable writing style to make this a worthwhile purchase for those wishing to get more information on Easy Company, or its wartime commander, but unlike the TV series it isn’t an essential purchase.