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Alamein to Zem Zem (1946)

Price €145,95 Sale




The rare 1946 1st edition of Keith Douglas’ classic WW2 war memoir, Alamein to Zem Zem, published in London by Editions Poetry. The book is an account of the tank battles at Alamein and during the offensive that finally drove the Germans out of Africa. The Spectator later described the book as 'written in a highly charged, violent descriptive prose, powerfully contrived but sufficiently serious to convey the humour, the pathos and the literal beauty of that dead world of tanks, sand, scrub and human corpses. It is throughout the work of a poet, and the only book of the late war comparable in descriptive power and intelligence to the books of Remarque, Sassoon and Blunden which spoke in similar terms of 1914-1918.' 

Keith Douglas (1920-1944): was an English poet and soldier noted for his war poetry during the Second World War and his wry memoir of the Western Desert campaign, Alamein to Zem Zem. He was killed in action during the invasion of Normandy. 

Douglas was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, the son of Capt. Keith Sholto Douglas, MC (retired) and Marie Josephine Castellain. In 1938 he won an open exhibition to Merton College, Oxford, to read History and English. The First World War veteran and well-known poet Edmund Blunden was his tutor at Merton, and regarded his poetic talent highly. Blunden sent his poems to T. S. Eliot, the doyen of English poetry, who found Douglas's verses 'impressive'. Douglas became the editor of Cherwell, and one of the poets anthologised in the collection Eight Oxford Poets (1941), although by the time that volume appeared he was already in the army. At Oxford, he was good friends with J. C. Hall who became his literary executor.

Within days of the declaration of war Douglas reported to an army recruiting centre with the intention of joining a cavalry regiment, but like many others keen to serve he had to wait, and it was not until July 1940 that he started his training. After attending the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he was commissioned on 1 February 1941 into the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry at Ripon. He was posted to the Middle East in July 1941 and transferred to the Nottinghamshire (Sherwood Rangers) Yeomanry. Posted initially at Cairo and Palestine, he found himself stuck at headquarters twenty miles behind El Alamein as a camouflage officer as the Second Battle of El Alamein began. At dawn on 24 October 1942, the Regiment advanced, and suffered numerous casualties from enemy anti-tank guns. Chafing at inactivity, Douglas took off against orders on 27 October, drove to the Regimental HQ in a truck, and reported to the C.O., Colonel E. O. Kellett, lying that he had been instructed to go to the front (luckily this escapade did not land him in serious trouble; Douglas got off with an apology). Desperately needing officer replacements, the Colonel posted him to A Squadron, and gave him the opportunity to take part as a fighting tanker in the Eighth Army's victorious sweep through North Africa, vividly recounted in Alamein to Zem Zem, which was illustrated with his own drawings.

Captain Keith Douglas returned from North Africa to England in December 1943 and took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944. On 9 June Douglas's armoured unit was pinned down on high ground overlooking Tilly-sur-Seulles. Concerned by the lack of progress, Douglas dismounted his tank to undertake a personal reconnaissance during which he was killed by a German mortar.


In good condition. The boards are in good condition, with some marks, and wear and fading to the spine and edges. The binding and hinges are good and secure. The text and illustrations are in good condition, with some age-toning to the paper. There is some rippling to the endpapers. The colour plates are in very good condition.

Published: 1946
Grey boards with red cloth spine
Illustrated with line drawings and colour plates
Dimensions: 175mm x 225mm
Pages: 156