Passport Not Required: U.S. Volunteers in the Royal Navy, 1939-1941

Passport Not Required: U.S. Volunteers in the Royal Navy, 1939-1941 - Eric Dietrich-Berryman, Charlotte Hammond, R. E. White This is about the twenty-two volunteers who, during the isolationist period in the United States, broke the law and joined the British Navy to help fight the Axis powers. This story is very interesting to read, as it shows how determined some US civilians were to join the British fight. Most of them had to escape to Canada and sign themselves up there, and others had to flee to Britain, because, even though Roosevelt secretly wanted to end the isolationism in America, he couldn’t outwardly support the US volunteers. Dietrich-Berryman painstakingly shows the convoluted nature of volunteering for the war, of bopping from one country to the next, assimilating into either Canada, France, or England, and training there. Many of the volunteers had no military background, some of them were old and well past the median age of enlisting. My favorite aspect of the story was when they depicted the hardened soldiers who stayed on-board ships. Some of the Americans were considered idealistic for their informal behavior in front of their superiors, and for rescuing torpedoed Germans (as is custom war civility). Homans dived into the Irish Sea to rescue some German officers, but his fellow officers were not pleased with his display of heroism. Likewise, Cherry (another American volunteer) had to deal with the lack of resolve in some of his fellow British officers. The Allies were fighting what seemed to be a hopeless war, and they were worn out from fighting so long, that it makes sense that their hope would occasionally flag in the face of more fighting. Additionally, an officer named Kauffman was responsible for deactivating and securing the unexploded, dropped bombs during the Blitz. In this field, nobody was an expert and the soldiers themselves were unsure of how each bomb would be secured. Kauffman once spent four hours securing a bomb in total darkness, because the bomb itself was sensitive to light. This story also shows the resilience of the Allies. There were many letters and interviews done with survivors of the Blitz, a consistent bombing campaign done on London that killed over 20,000 people and injured even more. However, these interviews also a dirty limerick about the ball-lessness of German officers, jokes about the gruesome wounds received during the bombings, and the squeamish British children who were afraid of the mice infesting the barracks (80-81). The story is very interesting, but the writing is very strained. Obviously, it is difficult to keep twenty-two main characters straight, in addition to their superiors and their job descriptions, but the a chronological timeline may have made reading it easier. As it is, the story opens with the deaths of a few of the volunteers, and then it repeatedly jumps back and moves forward, then jumps back again, it becomes increasingly harder to focus on each character and not confuse them with the others.