A multifaceted, moving story of five American Ivy League students who committed themselves to fight alongside the British in the spring of 1941.
Journalist Cox, the relative of one of the recruits, pieces together this extraordinary story of five patriotic young students at Dartmouth and Harvard who bucked the official U.S. decision to remain out of the war while the Nazis were conquering Europe and offered themselves as volunteers for the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Dartmouth senior Charles G. Bolté led the way by firing off an incendiary letter to President Roosevelt on the front page of the student newspaper announcing, “Now we have waited long enough.” At Harvard, senior Rob Cox had been wrestling with his own decision, spurred by a high draft number; while visiting a friend at Dartmouth that spring, he persuaded fellow Dartmouth students Jack Brister and Bill Durkee, along with Harvard sophomore Heyward Cutting, to join the fight. Within six weeks the five well-educated, fairly privileged young men arrived by Allied convoy to Halifax. Mixing in with the English they underwent recruit and officer training at Winchester and were considered curiosities and often displayed for the press and upper echelon. When events in North Africa boiled over, they were finally sent out by freighter in June 1942—the author gives a terrific account of onboard shenanigans and reflections by the bored, fearful men. They endured harsh conditions in the desert and were engaged in the decisive, ferocious Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. Brister was the only Yank not wounded in this battle; once Cox had recovered from being shot in the back, he and Brister returned to fight, and they both died in the Battle of Mareth in 1943. Bolté went on to pursue the cause of veterans’ rights and international peace; his first book, The New Veteran (1945), was dedicated to his fallen colleagues.
A unique take on the war, from the point of view of the young, idealistic and foolhardy.