Book Review: Alanbrooke: The Reluctant Warrior by Julian Horrocks

Review by Linda Parker

Alanbrooke: The Reluctant Warrior

by Julian Horrocks

Matador: 2023

Isbn: 978-180313-584-7

607 pp

Alanbrooke: The Reluctant Warrior is an ambitious, sweeping examination of its subject’s character life and career. It is bases on Alanbrooke’s diaries, the content of which the author claims have been misunderstood. The emphasis in this work is on Alanbrooke the man, examining the many facets to his character revealed by close examination of his diaries. The aim is to “unmask” his subject.

The genesis of theses diaries was the ‘conversations’ he wrote down and kept for his wife in which he poured out his worries, problems and   opinions. They were not intended for publication and are therefore not a hagiography or autobiography, with no points to be made which were to be used as post war justification or criticisms of war time decisions. However, they were used in Arthur Bryant’s narrative of the Second World war, causing controversy because of their supposed criticism of major wartime figures such as Churchill and De Gaulle. They were eventually published in an edited edition (Danchev and Todman, 2001) and stimulated an intense interest in the author about Alanbrooke’s complex character.

In this book the author seeks to use the diaries for wider purposes.  He interrogates the material to discover more about the nature of wartime leadership and the relationships between leaders, aiming to reveal “a character portrait of Alanbrooke which puts him in a markedly different and more sympathetic light.”

The first section deals with Alanbrooke’s childhood, his education at Woolwich   and notes his development into an officer who served with distinction in the First World War, rising to Commander in Chief of the BEF by 1940. The second section using both the diaries and autobiographical notes of Alanbrooke   comprises of a dense and very detailed description of his role in the Second World war, drawing out the themes that the author felt had been neglected and also giving a panoramic view of the war through Alanbrooke’s eyes and much interesting detail about the vital decisions made. The diary entries are used   in an explanatory narrative which gives context to events.

The third section contains the author’s analysis, firstly of Alanbrooke’s character, then of the strategies employed by Alanbrooke as Chief of Imperial General staff, in close contact and often in disagreement with Churchill, Eisenhower and the man leaders of the war. Some interesting comparisons are made with modern wars and lessons to be learned from Alanbrooke’s description of his war. A further chapter deals with his collaboration with Arthur Bryant and details his achievements.

In the final chapter the author explains his fascination for his subject and reflects on the title of the book by explaining why Alanbrooke was a reluctant warrior, making the case that in spite of his expertise as a war leader his personality was disinclined to violence and war, and emphasising how this “simple gentle selfless soul” was very much dependent on his family and the love of his wife Benita.

This is a book in which readers interested in the life of Alanbrooke and in the Second World War will find much interesting material and well thought out analysis. 

Click to see full BMMHS event listing pages.

Contact us at

Copyright © 2023 – All Rights Reserved

Images © IWM & NAM