After resigning from Asquith’s cabinet in late 1915, Winston Churchill rejoined the army and left for service in France, being temporarily attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. On his arrival a young officer of the regiment, Lieutenant Frederick “Boy” Browning, was detailed to accompany Churchill around the trenches. Although he arrived with a large kit, Churchill lacked a coat against the cold weather. Browning, however, loaned the newly arrived politician a great coat; a loan that was long remembered as it was the first thing Churchill recalled when introduced to Browning’s daughter four decades later.
During the Second World War, Churchill again encountered Browning, who was by then a senior general who played the leading role in the formation of the British Army’s airborne forces. Browning served, in succession, as commander of the 1st Airborne Division, airborne advisor to Eisenhower in the Mediterranean, and commander of I Airborne Corps during Operation Market Garden and the Battle of Arnhem, for which he has been ascribed much blame for the failure. Despite his controversial role in ‘Market Garden,’ General ‘Boy:’ The Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Browning by Richard Mead is the first biographical treatment of the general’s life.
Mead, the author of The Last Great Cavalryman: The Life of General Sir Richard McCreery, Commando General: The Life of Major General Sir Robert Laycock, and The Men behind Monty, provides a good account of Browning’s quite interesting life that was at times marked by misfortune. He recounts Browning’s military career as well as his interests in sailing and sports (he represented his country at the Olympics), his vain and difficult personality, his troubled marriage to the popular novelist Daphne du Maurier, his service to the Royal Family after his retirement from the army, and his health struggles that included a nervous breakdown in 1958.
Although Browning has been heavily criticized by historians as a “villain” of ‘Market Garden’ and very poorly portrayed in the movie A Bridge Too Far, Mead is fair in his evaluation of the general’s conduct in the operation. While sympathetic to his subject, the author concludes that Browning “certainly cannot be absolved from a significant level of responsibility, but he does not deserve to be castigated above all others.”
There is, unfortunately, a formating error in the photographs printed in the paperback volume of the book read by this reviewer.