One of the pleasures of writing for a living is that you come across all kinds of unexpected stuff. I’ve been getting stuck into the writing of ‘Ice Force’, the forth book in the Death Force series. As you might guess from the title, its set in the Arctic. To get my mind into the right place, I’ve been reading as much polar stuff as I get my hands on.
Most of it is exploration stories, and its useful for the atmosphere, and survival techniques. But not much has been written about Arctic warfare. Eventually, I stumbled across a book called ‘We Die Alone’, which was written in the early 1950s by David Howarth. It tells the story of Jan Baalstrud, a fairly ordinary Norwegian guy during the Second World War. He signs up with the British Army, and is sent on a commando mission into the far north of Norway. It goes terribly wrong from the start, the rest of his unit is killed, and he has to trek a massive distance chased by Nazis to escape.
The brilliance of the book is in its descriptions of Arctic warfare, and the endurance and fortitude of its hero. And it reminds you of what an extraordinary conflict WWII was, and how many ordinary people were caught up in extraordinary events.
The scene where Jan saws off his toes with a bread knife and a bottle of brandy to prevent them getting frostbite is memorable.
It’s now been reissued, with a forward by Andy McNab – and highly recommended.