Synopses & Reviews
In 1941 photographer Croswell Bowen joined American Field Service volunteer ambulance drivers and served alongside the British Eighth Army during World War II. As the war continued to escalate, he would have his mental, emotional, and physical well-being tested beyond anything he ever imagined. Back from Tobruk is the remarkable account of one mans journey across a world torn apart, with only his camera and his moral convictions to guide him. As Bowen watched the number of wounded and dying soldiers grow, he struggled to understand the very nature of war itself. A lifelong Catholic and devoted pacifist, he tried to reconcile his commitment to nonviolence with his growing belief that the end of this war would finally bring peace to the world. As he spent time in hospitals and field dressing stations as both a caregiver and a patient, he witnessed soldiers reaching out to their former battlefield enemies, showing grace and compassion in a world seemingly bereft of both. “When the great leaders sit down at the peace table,” he wrote of his fellow servicemen, “they might take a lesson from those men.” Later a successful journalist and author, Bowen never forgot what he had witnessed during his time in Africa and the Middle East. Back from Tobruk documents the brutality of war and the resilience of the human spirit.
“I found Back from Tobruk fascinating. A sensitive young American journalist watching the British at war and play in the Middle East does some of his best reporting when he becomes a stretcher case and is evacuated through various field hospitals, fraternizing with the wounded of both sides. By rescuing her father’s unpublished memoir from undeserved oblivion, writer Betsy Connor Bowen has done us all a favor.”—Colin Smith, military historian and coauthor of Alamein: War without Hate
“As World War II recedes in human memory, we are left largely with statistics, battles, generals, destruction. Back from Tobruk, Croswell Bowen’s memoir of the war in the desert in the summer of 1942—published, at last, more than forty years after his death—tells what the war was like for an American attempting to do his part as ambulance driver and photographer. It is a cultural gem, recording Bowen’s personal awakening to war’s reality at the most human, individual level. Deeply moving.”—Nigel Hamilton, author of Master of the Battlefield: Monty’s War Years 1942–1944