Keith Douglas, from Alamein to Zem Zem

[Click on image to enlarge] Keith Douglas (1920–1944) was born in Tunbridge Wells, the son of a regular army officer who had won the Military Cross in World War I and who, in 1927, deserted his wife and son. Lord Byron's family situation had been somewhat similar. Interestingly both poets were men of action with an almost obsessive interest in warfare. At Merton College, Oxford, Douglas was tutored by Edmund Blunden, a distinguished soldier-poet of the World War I. In 1940, Douglas enlisted in a cavalry regiment that was soon obliged to exchange its horses for tanks. In August 1942, they went into battle against Field Marshal Rommel's Africa Corps in the Egyptian desert. Forced to remain in reserve behind the lines, Douglas commandeered a truck and, in direct disobedience of orders, drove off to join his regiment.

His subsequent achievement as a poet and prose writer was to celebrate the last stand of the chivalric hero (see NAEL 2.2535–39). The following selections are taken from his brilliant memoir of the desert campaign, Alamein to Zem Zem (1946), section XVII.


An excerpt from Douglas's Alamein to Zem Zem is available at

[Click on image to enlarge]

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