In the Hour of Victory by Jonathan Smith OBE. *Photo supplied
In the Hour of Victory by Jonathan Smith OBE. *Photo supplied

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18: With most books, knowing what happens at the end spoils it a bit — but not with In The Hour of Victory, the story of one man’s war and death far from his island home of Bermuda.

The knowledge that Major Toby Smith is destined to die in action in Holland only adds to the poignancy of his letters home to his wife Faith.

For the reader knows that every line takes Major Smith closer and closer to the front line, where he was killed in Holland leading his troops in an attack on a small wood heavily defended by German soldiers.

From fretting about money and the restrictions of a wartime bureaucracy which made it extremely hard to send money to his family, to discussions on how the war affected the US and Bermuda, the letters provide a snapshot of life in both Britain and the island in the 1940s.

The father-of-five volunteered to go to Britain in 1940 and was 36, in terms of front line soldiering a middle-aged man, when he landed in Europe after the D Day landings of the summer of 1944.

And — although only his letters survive — it’s clear his wife suffered from the separation, money worries and the strain of bringing up the family on her own, for large parts of the war at her parents’ home in the US.

Major Smith, from a Britain mortgaged to the hilt to pay for the war and with strict rationing, marvelled at, and was disparaging of, Bermudian men who chose to stay at home.

He wrote: “Bermuda is a sort of mediaeval autocracy and has a great many very greedy and selfish people in it.”

He also spent considerable time and effort reminding his wife why he had chosen to go to England and why he wanted to fight the Nazis.

He wrote: “Whose job is it to stop them? Well, it is everyone’s job — everyone with a sense of decency.”

But — with an infantry officer’s eye for detail — he also takes time to describe the sights and sounds of the English countryside, much of it virtually untouched by war, but part of a world soon to vanish.

It’s quite simply one of the best accounts I have read of World War II, ranking alongside Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, a fictional account drawn from his actual wartime service with the Royal Marines.

The traditional poem of remembrance, recited at commemoration services from the glittering ceremony at London’s Albert Hall to modest services in villages from Scotland to the Caribbean to the Far East, says: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

Sen. Smith’s labour of love makes sure that the story of at least one victim of war, Major Toby Smith, Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, 2nd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, won’t be forgotten.

But he also stands muster for the millions of fallen in past conflicts who are now just names on war memorials scattered across the former British Empire.

Major Smith, writing from his instructor’s post in England, worried that people might laugh at him when he returned home for giving up what must have been a comfortable existence for life in wartime Britain.

Stand easy, Major. Nobody’s laughing. And thanks for — as it turned out — everything.