Book Reviews: Hand-Me-Down Army Comes Up Trumps; EIGHTH ARMY: From the Western Desert to the Alps 1939-45 by Robin Neillands. Published (Hardback) by John Murray. Pounds 20

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Byline: JEREMY GATES

LIKE Jonny's last gasp drop kick to snatch the Rugby World Cup and Geoff Hurst's famous shot against the Germans which must surely have crossed the line by now, the legend of the Eighth Army is a particularly British one: that we are at our most dangerous in the last minutes of extra time.

In fact, as Rob Neillands is quick to explain, the Eighth Army was really the last collective heave of Britain's old empire.

With poor old Blighty barely able to defend itself post-Dunkirk, Eighth Army forces were drawn from around the globe with a few Poles thrown in for good measure. El Alamein was built on the brilliance and bravery of Australian infantry.

So hand-me-down, in fact, was the organisation of this force of 300,000 men that nobody actually got round to devising a uniform. When Captain Clay, an Old Etonian in the Hussars, was seized by the Italians, he was wearing "a golf jacket, a pink shirt tucked into a yellow silk scarf, a pair of green corduroy trousers and an expensive pair of suede boots".

Although it fought further major campaigns in Sicily and the Italian mainland, Eighth Army's main claim to fame is its role from June 1940 to October 1942 as the only Western army actually engaging the Axis powers- along the blood-spattered coastline of North Africa, from Tripoli to Alexandria. …