8 November 2014

Rations, Raids and Romance - York in the Second World War

In this second volume in York Archaeological Trust’s Oral History series, author Van Wilson looks at life in York during the Second World War, as remembered by those who lived through it.

Over 70 interviewees contribute their experiences of life in York and the surrounding area; their memories of evacuation, rationing, air raids and dancing in the de Grey rooms give a wonderful insight into the joys as well as the hardships of life in wartime Britain.

Chapter One: Preparing for War
Chapter Two: Tbe Evacuees
Chapter Three: Civil Defence
Chapter Four: The Women's Land Army
Chapter Five: Rations and Fashions
Chapter Six: The York Air Raids
Chapter Seven: Work in Wartime
Chapter Eight: Entertainment and Romance
Chapter Nine: Prisoners of War
Chapter Ten: The Pacifists
Chapter Eleven: The End of the War
Profiles of Interviewees

Published by:
York Archaelogical Trust

29 July 2014

Warsaw Boy: A Memoir of a Wartime Childhood

Warsaw Boy is the memoir of a sixteen-year old boy soldier who fought in the vicious Warsaw Uprising in the late summer of 1944.

On 1 August 1944 Andrew Borowiec, then a fifteen-year-old volunteer in the Resistance, lobbed a grenade through the shattered window of a Warsaw apartment block onto some German soldiers running below. 'I felt I had come of age. I was a soldier and I'd just tried to kill some of our enemies'.

The Warsaw Uprising lasted for 63 days: Heinrich Himmler described it as 'the worst street fighting since Stalingrad'. Yet for the most part the insurgents were poorly equipped local men and teenagers - some of them were even younger than Andrew.

Over that summer Andrew faced danger at every moment, both above and below ground as the Poles took to the city's sewers to creep beneath the German lines during lulls in the fierce counterattacks. Wounded in a fire fight the day after his sixteenth birthday and unable to face another visit to the sewers, he was captured as he lay in a makeshift cellar hospital wondering whether he was about to be shot or saved. Here he learned a lesson: there were decent Germans as well as bad.From one of the most harrowing episodes of the Second World War, this is an extraordinary tale of survival and defiance recounted by one of the few remaining veterans of Poland's bravest summer.

Andrew Borowiec was born at Lodz in Poland in 1928. At fifteen he joined the Home Army, the main Polish resistance during the Second World War, and fought in the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising. After the war he left Poland and attended Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Available from:
Viking (A Penguin imprint)

6 June 2014

WN 62: A German Soldier’s Memories of the Defence of Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 6, 1944

Heinrich Severloh’s moving autobiography and service memoir describes the greatest amphibious landing-operation in history, which on D-Day marked the beginning of the decisive campaign of the Second World War. When in the dawn of June 6, 1944, the western Allies opened their offensive against the Atlantic Wall on the coast of Normandy, with 7,000 ships and 13,000 airplanes, Severloh, the machine-gunner who became the German most feared by the Americans, was posted at Strongpoint WN62. He fired at the G.I.’s on the beach with his machine gun and rifle for nine long hours - more than 2.000 of them were taken down.

In a moving and unsparing account, Heinrich Severloh describes  the dramatic hours during which 34,000 G.I.’s landed in his sector of what later was called “Bloody Omaha”, and met with the hard-fought resistance of only 300 German soldiers. Severloh the young farmer’s son from the L√ľneburg heath, survived a firestorm, as bizarre as it was terrible, that stamped the rest of his life.

Many internationally-known military historians, as well as the press and television, have immortalized Severloh in the history of warfare. Until the publication of this sad confession, Americans had never known the name of the one who, in large measure, caused the landing to become this awful slaughterhouse.

This memoir, in collaboration with Helmut Konrad Baron Keusgen, a writer for military history, is an extremely thrilling factual account with precise descriptions of the immediate area of the assault. It provides an additional point of view of the events of his dramatic day, and presents the relations of the French and the Germans in a different light.. It is told with violent emotion and unvarnished truth. Severloh clarifies uncompromisingly spurious moral values and ideologies, and questions hitherto prevailing official statements.

Available from:

Battle for Cherbourg

One of the Battle Zone Normandy series published by Sutton Publishing, Battle for Cherbourg gives an overview of the battle for the port town, urgently required by the Allies as a port to allow landing of troops and vital supplies.

The battle started on the 22nd June, with three American divisions beginning their assault. A bitter six-day battle ensued, as the 40,000 strong German garrison in the Cotentin peninsula had been ordered to hold the port to the last man.

The book also includes four different battlefield tours, colour illustrations and reference maps.

Available from:

Normandy Landings - A 19-year-old's diary with unique photos

"....we had to fight two wars, one against the sea and the other against the Germans."

Still only in his teens, and newly commissioned, Sub Lieutenant Carter was one of the youngest naval officers to engage in prolonged action on the Normandy beaches during operation overlord in June 1944.

Their first beaching took place with his landing craft filled with American Stuart tanks. It was a grim scene, faithfully recorded by the author in this excellent account and clearly attested by the over twenty-five of his own photographs. Because of the leaky state of his LCT Mark V, Sub-Lt. Carter was kept in Normandy for three weeks of hard toil delivering armaments and supplies all along the American beachhead, experiencing the horrific storm and the break-up of his craft.
 Uniquely, then, he presents a record of many landings, rather than just one, and gives us a chilling overview of the chaos that turned - miraculously - into triumph. After seventy years, it is well to remember how much we owe to the men who landed on D-Day, and to those, like the author, who helped ensure their victory.

Available from:

Destination Normandy - Three American Regiments on D-Day

G. H. Bennett collects oral histories from the soldiers of three American regiments and weaves them into an intimate account of the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. 

Widely scattered during its drop into Normandy, the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment (82nd Airborne Division) stopped the advance of an SS division. The untested 116th Infantry Regiment (29th Infantry Division) landed on bloody Omaha Beach, where it suffered more casualties than any other regiment that day. Meanwhile, the 22nd Infantry Regiment (4th Infantry Division) easily waded ashore on Utah Beach but faced savage fighting as it moved inland.

While the book covers the experiences of the men of these regiments on D Day and in Normandy, an additional element is the detail given to the time spent training across the UK - an aspected often overlooked.

Available from:

5 June 2014

The Normandy Battlefield - D-Day & The Bridgehead

The dramatic events of 70 years ago left behind many signs across Normandy: from the huge caissons of the Mulberry Harbour around Arromanches, the gun emplacements at Longues and Merville, to the multitude of hardware used as memorials—tanks, artillery, pillboxes—and the many graves and cemeteries that honour those who died on both sides. It is in memory of the dead that much of what can be seen on the ground survives, but as the last few survivors reach their 90s, a new audience requires information about the events of the past that can only come from seeing the ground where the battle was fought. Today, the beaches are a fascinating mixture of the new and the old, including the new visitors’ center at Colleville and the renovation and expansion of the Utah Beach museum—even as further new memorials jostle with the older sites that have changed little in 70 years.
The Normandy Battlefields details what can be seen on the ground today using a mixture of media to provide a complete overview of the campaign. Maps old and new highlight what has survived and what hasn’t; then-and-now photography allows fascinating comparisons with the images taken at the time—particularly the aerial views—and computer artwork provides graphic details of things that can’t be seen today.

A particular aspect of the book that is worthy of note is the photograph captions. A concerted effort has been made to identify not only locations, but also the individuals contained within well known photos - including in some cases their fate, during the battle for Normandy. 

Available from: