15 November 2009

First to Fight: Poland's contribution to the Allied Victory in WWII

In recent years, Polish veterans in the UK were shocked to discover young people in Britain asking whether Poland fought with Germany. To ensure that the Polish contribution to Britain's war effort is never forgotten, First to Fight has been published.

First to Fight recounts Poland’s epic six-year struggle—with some historically significant texts being published for the first time, such as the English translation of Stalin’s signed order to execute 14,736 of the Polish officer corps at Katyn Forest in 1940.

The story is brought to life with moving personal stories from Poles who fought in the air, on land and at sea, on many fronts.

For example, the myth of Polish cavalry charging German Panzers is addressed: yes they did charge, but to good effect as recounted by Lieutenant Andrzej Zylinski. Leading the 4th Squadron of the Polish 11th Uhlan Regiment they charged with sabres drawn, breaching the German defences of Kaluszyn. After fierce fighting the town was captured with the almost complete destruction of the German 44th Regiment, whose commander committed suicide.

The book is available on Amazon but at a vastly inflated price - order it directly from the publishers.

Available from:
The Polish Armed Forces Memorial

13 November 2009

In the Prison of His Days: The Memoirs of a Captured World War Two Gunner

When Gunner George Norman Davison returned to his hometown of Sheffield, England, upon the conclusion of the Second World War, he used the diary he had carried with him to write a vivid first-hand account of his experiences.

These included the former insurance clerk's initial training in the UK and posting to North Africa; his immediate separation from Irene, his newlywed wife; his subsequent capture and imprisonment in the desert camps of Libya; the seemingly endless, lonely and hungry minutes dreaming of food and home; his re-transportation to Italy; the cruelty and kindness of his captors there; and - finally - his escape with the aid of the Italian resistance across the border on Lake Como into Switzerland.

Job done, Davison then put his remarkable story to one side before typing it up in manuscript form shortly before his death in 1986, whereupon it was rediscovered in a dusty attic by his only son, John. Alongside it was a battered old suitcase which contained yet more fascinating items, including each and every letter that Norman and Irene Davison had written to one another in those dark days from 1939 to 1946.

Published by Scratching Shed Publishing.

Available from:

11 November 2009

Free extract from "Dear Coach: Letters Home from WWII" by Lois Herr

Lois Herr has kindly provided an extract from her new book “Dear Coach: Letters Home from WWII”. Lois has also written an introduction to the piece, which I hope you will find of interest:

In “Dear Coach: Letters Home from WWII” I’ve compiled together a variety of the letters mom and I stumbled across in the attic written to dad, with pictures, scrapbook clippings, newspaper articles and a wide variety of historical information from the time to paint a picture of what life must have been like for these small-town college men and women as not only their country went into war, but so did their friends and family. I hope you enjoy the following excerpt from Chapter 5 of “Dear Coach: Letters Home from WWII” entitled “Campus Exodus” and featuring the events that occurred with Coach and his Elizabethtown College athletes during the year 1942.

“Dear Coach: Letters Home from WWII” excerpt from Chapter 5 – Campus Exodus

“In 1942, Coach hears from his athlete soldiers in Maryland, California, Alabama, Arakansas, Virginia, New York, Arizona, Louisiana, and North Carolina. Spread around the country, they still follow the fortunes of Elizabethtown College teams and try to keep playing ball themselves, though Gene Shirk confesses he plays more ping-pong than baseball. Having heard about Coach’s new daughter, he starts his first letter of 1942,

Say, how does it feel to be a Pap? Did you pass out cigars yet? I was asked today when I am going to pass out the cigars because I made PFC December 10. I now have a First and fourth with total $51.00 a month. Not bad only I sure wish I could have made Corporal. Maybe I will by the time the war is over.

Many of the athlete soldiers mark time, waiting while Uncle Sam figures out what to do with all the new recruits. There’s even star entertainment while things get organized, according to Rudy Rudisill, who sees a three-hour show at Hamilton Field – Kay Kyser’s orchestra with Lucille Ball, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Phil Reagan, Desi Arnez, and Linda Darnell. Emory Stouffer and Rudisill hold jobs where they work with troop deployments, and both are getting busy; still they make time to stay in touch and both are stationed close to home. Stouffer writes,

Ft. Belvoir, Va.

January 11, 1942

Dear Kathryn, Ira, and the Daughter,

How is everyone? Haven’t heard from you in a long time…

Since Christmas a lot of activity took place in this Training Center. Troops, troops and more troops in and out, all ready for a new experience. We transferred all of last group during the week of Christmas, and during the past week we got another group of 200 or more. This time we will have all available rooms taken up and in fact maybe we’ll start stacking beds. We expect another hundred men in the morning and 6:00 A.M. Our capacity is supposed to be 250 including cadre [staff] but the way it looks we’ll have over 300. Beds were moved closer together and all vacant rooms are being activated. Rooms that normally have two men will have three, etc, so you know the U.S. means business…

How are the basketball teams Coach? Of course, the girls should be winning as usual and make the boys feel a bit blue.

Well folks, it’s getting late and I still have to write my few lines to the “Round Robin” letter. The Round Robin is the roommates of 212 last year – John, Charlie, Perry, and Bob. Just heard from them so I’ll have to pass it on to the next receiver.

Best wishes to all.



The chapter continues on featuring letters from not only Emory but several of his fellow athletes now deployed to various air fields, training centers, etc. Their words to my dad, Coach Ira Herr, paint a picture of what life must have been like for these small-town college men and women as not only their country went into war, but so did their friends and family. I hope you have as enlightening of a time reading “Dear Coach” as I did writing it.

Follow the rest of Lois Herr’s virtual book tour by stopping by her official blog to see where she’s headed next.

6 November 2009

Free extract from Dear Coach: Letters Home from WWII

On the 11th November I will be posting a free extract from a new book by Lois Herr - Dear Coach: Letters Home from WWII.

Dear Coach features letters that were sent to Lois's father, sports coach Ira Herr, during WWII. The letters were written by various students, friends and family members who once played for the coach at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.

The book gives an inside look at not only the impact of the war on a small college community in the US, but also that of multiple heartfelt player and coach relationships.

The book can be purchased via the author's website.

Master of None

An autobiography of a retired Army officer, Master of None follows the complete life story of Major Douglas Goddard, from his early memoirs of childhood days in south east London and Suffolk farms, then focusing on his service as a regular army officer who fought with the 43rd Wessex Division during World War 2 from the Normandy landings through to Bremen.

After the war, he was involved in the repatriation of some 30,000 Russian & Polish displaced people from the area around the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camps (including attending the trial of the camp guards) and saw post-war service in the Middle East during the Suez Canal crisis.

Available from:
Troubador Publishing

Peace, War and Love

Peace, War and Love by John Smale is the story of two people who came together and married just after WW2 started.

Jack and Sophie had different childhoods in the years between the Wars. Jack grew up on a Dorset farm as the youngest of seven children. Sophie, as the eldest of seven sisters found herself increasingly having to look after her growing number of siblings.

The couple met and then moved apart. There were lots of `near misses' during the War, but they both, luckily, survived. Jack was a soldier who was stationed in London during the Blitz and was later torpedoed on his way to Algiers with the REME. The book includes an account of the last few hours of the Windsor Castle and how the troops were rescued. There are descriptions of his advance through North Africa and his posting in Italy.

Meanwhile Sophie was stationed at RAF Manstone and only escaped death because she, and a friend, had a bad feeling about going into an air-raid shelter one night. She became pregnant by Jack, now her husband, on their last night together before he was posted the ill fated Windsor Castle.

So, fate appeared to be ganging up on them but it was actually conspiring to keep them together. After the War, they remained a happily married couple until Jack died earlier this year (2009). Sophie is still alive and lives in the village where they met.

Available from:

23 October 2009

Corvettes Canada: Convoy Veterans of WWII Tell Their True Stories

In Corvettes Canada, Mac Johnston re-creates life aboard corvettes through the worlds of the veterans themselves. Within a framework of the basic events of the war, this book is essentially the product of the memories of more than 250 men, collected by correspondence in a project that got underway with an initial personalized letter to several hundred corvette veterans in 1990. Hundreds of additional letters followed as more veterans were identified. The letter count rose to 1,400 and then 1,900 to flesh out the corvette story.

From the fall of 1940 until May 1945, Corvettes Canada follows these small warships as they shepherd convoys of merchant ships carrying weapons, food, oil, raw materials and manufactured goods from North America to the United Kingdom. On the return trip, the escorts bring back the empty vessels for reloading.

As told in the worlds of the veterans, the routines of life aboard a corvette are punctuated by sudden burst of fierce action--the life-and-death moments for warships, merchant ships and German submarines. This was but one enemy--the other was the North Atlantic itself, a powerful force that brought severe cold, icy storms and fierce gales.

In addition to the famous Newfie-Derry Run on the North Atlantic, corvettes also saw duty in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on the triangle run to New York and Boston, in the Caribbean, in the Mediterranean and in the English Channel, as well as the Pacific Ocean.

Published by Wiley. Preview at Google books.

Available from:

Naked Heart - A Soldier's Journey to the Front

Naked Heart: A Soldier’s Journey to the Front is a powerful statement about the dark and vainglorious side of combat as experienced in World War II by a young private, Harold Pagliaro. His true story is a gripping, authentic account of men’s behavior in the face of death on the battlefield.

Pagliaro is sent to the Vosges front in France in 1944, as a solo replacement in a reconnaissance unit, isolated from the men he trained with. Facing death moment to moment, without friends or a sense of belonging, he sees firsthand how the reality of battle distorts men with fear. They look for relief in pathetic shows of false courage or the exercise of arbitrary power. Throughout Naked Heart, Pagliaro’s army life and war experiences connect closely with his personal life: unfulfilled love, friends, family—in particular a younger brother.

Shocked by a lack of truth revealed in letters he sent home from the war, Pagliaro gathered his memories into a book. He committed himself to relate the true story behind the letters’ white-washed surface. His straightforward, informal style blends fact, feeling, and perspective.

There are a number of positive reviews on Amazon.

Available from:
Truman State University Press

Two Soldiers, Two Lost Fronts - German War Diaries of the Stalingrad and North Africa Campaigns

This book is built around two recently discovered war diaries—one by a member of the 23rd Panzer Division which served under Manstein in Russia, and the other by a member of Rommel’s AfrikaKorps. Together, along with detailed timelines and brief overviews, they comprise a fascinating “ground level” look at the German side of World War II.

The assignment of keeping the first diary was given to a soldier in the 2nd Battalion, 201st Panzer Regiment by a commanding officers and the author never saw fit to include his own name. This diary covers the period from April 1942 to March 1943, the momentous year when the tide of battle turned in the East. It first details the unit’s combat in the great German victory at Charkov, then the advance to the Caucasus, and finally the brutal winter of 1942–43.

The second diary’s author was a soldier named Rolf Krengel. It starts with the beginning of the war and ends shortly after the occupation. Serving primarily in North Africa, Krengel recounts with keen insight and flashes of humour the day-to-day challenges of the AfrikaKorps. During one of the swirling battles in the desert, Krengel found himself sharing a tent with Rommel at a forward outpost. The Field Marshal read parts of the diary with interest and signed it. Evacuated due to illness, Krengel then records service in Berlin beneath the relentless Allied bomber streams and other occurrences on the German homefront.

Neither of the diarists was famous, nor of especially high rank. However, these are the brutally honest accounts written at the time by men of the Wehrmacht who participated in two of history’s most crucial campaigns.

Available from:

18 October 2009

Soldiers of Misfortune - lvoirien Tirailleurs of World War II

This is a study of the African veterans of a European war. It is a story of men from the Cote d'Ivoire, many of whom had seldom traveled more than a few miles from their villages, who served France as tirailleurs (riflemen) during World War II.

Thousands of them took part in the doomed attempt to hold back the armies of the Third Relch in 1940; many were to spend the rest of the war as prisoners in Germany or Occupied France.

Others more fortunate came under the authority of Vichy France, and were deployed in the Defense of the “Motherland” and its overseas possessions against the threat posed by the Allies. By 1943, the tirailleur regiments had passed into the service of de Gaulle's free French and under Allied command, played a significant role in the liberation of Europe.

In describing these complex events, Dr. Lawler draws upon archives in both France and the Cote d'Ivoire. She also carried out an extensive series of interviews with Ivoirien veterans principally, but not exclusively, from the Korhogo region. The vividness of their testimony gives this study a special character. They talk freely not only of their wartime exploits, but also of their experiences after repatriation.

Lawler allows them to speak for themselves. They express their hatred of forced labor and military conscription, which were features of the colonial system, yet at the same time reveal a pride in having come to the defense of France. They describe their role in the nationalist struggle, as foot soldiers of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, but also convey their sense of having become a lost generation. They recognize that their experiences as French soldiers had become sadly irrelevant in a new nation in quest of its history.

Available from:
Ohio University Press

Few Returned: Diary of Twenty-eight Days on the Russian Front, Winter, 1942-43

After World War II more than one hundred books appeared that dealt with the experience of the Italian army in Russia, and particularly the terrible winter retreat of 1942-1943. Few Returned (I piu' non ritornano) is the only one of these that is still regularly reissued in Italy.

Eugenio Corti, who was a twenty-one-year-old second lieutenant at the time, found himself, together with 30,000 Italians and a smaller contingent of Germans, encircled on the banks of the River Don by enemy forces who far outnumbered them. To break out of this encirclement, these men undertook a desperate march across the snow, with constant engagements and in temperatures ranging from -20 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Whereas supplies were air-dropped to the Germans, the predicament of the Italians was far more difficult: lacking gasoline, they were compelled to abandon their vehicles and to proceed without heavy arms, equipment, ammunition, or provisions. Even the wounded had to be abandoned, though it was well known that the soldiers of the Red Army"enraged by the brutality of the German invasion"killed all the enemy wounded who fell into their hands. After twenty-eight days of encirclement, only 4,000 of the 30,000 Italians made it out of the pocket.

Eugenio Corti began writing his diary at a military hospital immediately after being repatriated from the Russian front. When in September 1943 Italy found itself cut in two by the Armistice, Corti, loyal to his officer's oath, joined up with what remained of the Italian army in the south and with those few troops participated in driving the Germans off Italian soil, fighting at the side of the British Eighth and the American Fifth Armies.

Published by the University of Missouri Press.

Available from:

Diary of a Red Devil - By Glider to Arnhem with the 7th King's Own Scottish Borderers

Diary of A Red Devil relates the war time experiences of a young man, Albert Blockwell from the north-east of England, who in February 1940 was called up for service with the Army. Initially conscripted into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and trained as a vehicle mechanic, he was then posted in March 1940 to a pre-war Territorial unit - The 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers, then a home defence unit based near London. His diary is a most interesting account of a young vehicle mechanic who also had to learn to be a infantry soldier. Albert remained with this unit for all his war-time service, later going to the Shetland Islands when the 7th KOSB were part of OSDEF (Orkney and Shetlands Defence Force).

Then in late 1943 much to their surprise the unit was posted to Lincolnshire to become the third infantry unit in the 1st Airlanding Brigade then in the process of returning from Italy with the rest of the 1st Airborne Division. Swapping their glengarries for red berets Albert and his comrades had to adapt to their new way of getting to war by glider. The diary continues with a down to earth account of the highs and lows of the next few months.

In September 1944 Albert flew to Holland on Operation Market-Garden and his account (written in PoW camp) describes the savage nine days fighting at Arnhem from the slit trench level. Taken prisoner on the last day his account then describes the spartan life in PoW camp without pulling any punches.

Sadly Albert died in 2001 but his diary survived and his daughter Maggie Clifton together with help from two published 'Arnhem' authors have edited a unique account of the fighting at Arnhem from the frontline soldier's perspective.

Available from:

Forgotten Voices of D-Day

6 June 1944 is one of the most momentous days in history: the day Allied forces crossed the Channel and began fighting their way into Nazi-occupied Northwest Europe. Preceded by airborne units and covered by air and naval bombardment, the Normandy landings were the most ambitious combined airborne and amphibious assault ever attempted. Their success marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.

Drawing on thousands of hours of eyewitness testimony recorded by the Imperial War Museum, Forgotten Voices of D-Day tells the compelling story of this turning point in the Second World War in the words of those who were there. We hear from paratroopers and commandos, glider pilots and landing craft crewmen, airmen and naval personnel. We learn first-hand of what it was like as men waited to go in, as they neared the beaches and drop zones, as they landed and met the enemy. Accounts range from memories of the daring capture of ‘Pegasus’ bridge by British glider-borne troops to recollections of brutal fighting as the assault forces stormed the beaches. Shedding fresh light too on the American contribution, they include the memories of British personnel caught up in the terrible events at Omaha Beach where United States forces suffered over 2,000 casualties.

Published by Ebury Press.

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Sharpshooter - Memories of Armoured Warfare 1939-45

J L Cloudsley-Thompson served in an armoured regiment, the 4th County of London Yeomanry (The Sharpshooters) from 1941 to 1944.

He discovered that a battlefield bore little resemblance to the parade grounds and training areas at home; and he pulls no punches in describing the frustrations of fighting against an enemy whose tanks, for the most part, were better armed and armoured than our own. He graphically describes tank battles in the deserts of North Africa and his experiences in Normandy where his Cromwell was knocked-out by a Tiger from a squadron commanded by German ‘ace’ Michael Wittmann near Villers-Bocage.

There follows a gripping account of the escape he and his crew made back to British lines, which included an alarming encounter with a French butcher. He does not shrink from describing the ghastly results from direct hits by anti-tank guns or land mines, nor the fearsome casualties suffered by wildlife, farm animals and domestic pets. On the lighter side, he and his men found and cared for a baby desert fox-cub until, as he puts it, ‘she decamped into the desert during a heavy barrage, having decided that she was now old enough to look after herself in her native environment.’

This book will inevitably become one of that body of war reminiscences distinguished by their uncompromising commitment to telling it as it was, not as the propagandists would have it.

Available from:
Arcturus Press

Your Loyal and Loving Son - The Letters of Tank Gunner Karl Fuchs, 1933–1941

These are the compelling letters of Karl Fuchs, an ordinary German soldier who was completely convinced of the righteousness of his cause and who wrote them free of the recriminations and hindsight arising from the bitterness of defeat. Combining enthusiastic expressions of loyalty to the Führer and the Fatherland with messages of love for his family and requests for necessities from home, they provide a personal look at a youth typical of his time, one whose fervent and naive nationalism was of the very sort that later fanned the flames of the Holocaust.

Throughout Your Loyal and Loving Son, young Fuchs remains an idealist, confident in his concept of duty. Yet his letters clearly support the general assertion that many Germans who backed the Third Reich did so neither out of opportunistic self-interest nor nihilistic delight in destruction, but instead in the hope for a better future. Killed on the Eastern Front, Fuchs did not live to see his son, the infant to whom he wrote and who as an adult compiled these letters for publication. With an introduction and annotations by eminent historian Dennis Showalter, this collection will help make those early war years more comprehensible to contemporary readers.

Available from:
Potomac Books

Lives of Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers - Untold Tales of Men of Jewish Descent Who Fought for the Third Reich

They were foot soldiers and officers. They served in the regular army and the Waffen-SS. And, remarkably, they were also Jewish, at least as defined by Hitler’s infamous race laws. Pursuing the thread he first unraveled in Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers, Bryan Rigg takes a closer look at the experiences of Wehrmacht soldiers who were classified as Jewish. In this long-awaited companion volume, he presents interviews with twenty-one of these men, whose stories are both fascinating and disturbing.

As many as 150,000 Jews and partial-Jews (or Mischlinge) served, often with distinction, in the German military during World War II. The men interviewed for this volume portray a wide range of experiences—some came from military families, some had been raised Christian—revealing in vivid detail how they fought for a government that robbed them of their rights and sent their relatives to extermination camps. Yet most continued to serve, since resistance would have cost them their lives and they mistakenly hoped that by their service they could protect themselves and their families. The interviews recount the nature and extent of their dilemma, the divided loyalties under which many toiled during the Nazi years and afterward, and their sobering reflections on religion and the Holocaust, including what they knew about it at the time.

Rigg relates each individual’s experiences following the establishment of Hitler’s race laws, shifting between vivid scenes of combat and the increasingly threatening situation on the home front for these men and their family members. Their stories reveal the constant tension in their lives: how some tried to hide their identities, and how a few were even “Aryanized” as part of Hitler’s effort to retain reliable soldiers—including Field Marshal Erhard Milch, three-star general Helmut Wilberg, and naval commander Bernhard Rogge.

Chilling, compelling, almost beyond belief, these stories depict crises of conscience under the most stressful circumstances. Lives of Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers deepens our understanding of the complex intersection of Nazi race laws and German military service both before and during World War II.

Published by The University Press of Kansas.

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Looking Backwards Over Burma

In this memoir, Dennis Spencer recalls his experiences as an observer/navigator in the two-man crew of a Bristol Beaufighter ~ the twin-engined, long-range, heavy fighter aircraft that served with such distinction in a variety of roles during World War II ~ in which he clocked up over 200 operational hours whilst on active service with 211 Squadron, of 224 Group, Third Tactical Air Force, South East Asia Air Command.

Alongside his flying partner, pilot Geoff Vardigans, Dennis undertook 52 hazardous sorties over Japanese-occupied territory in Burma and Siam (now Myanmar and Thailand) during 1944.

In Beaufighters armed with under-wing rocket projectiles in addition to their usual cannons, the aircrews of 211 Squadron were given the task of seeking out and attacking enemy road, rail and waterborne transport of all kinds, which required them to fly long distances at low level over hostile territory, often for many hours at a stretch, with little hope of escape or rescue in the event of mechanical failure, pilot fatigue or being shot down – all of which were distinct possibilities.

About the only thing in their favour was the Beaufighter’s remarkably silent approach at a low level, enabling surprise attacks to be achieved and earning the aircraft its macabre nickname "Whispering Death".

Flying long-range missions at low level, over hilly jungle terrain, presented numerous challenges to both pilot and navigator and Dennis does well to describe the mixture of excitement and anxiety he experienced on operations, with much of his time spent facing backwards, in the Beaufighter’s swivelling navigator’s seat, keeping a watchful eye for enemy fighters – hence the doubly apposite title of his memoir.

Available from:
Woodfield Publishing

6 September 2009

Scheisshaus Luck: Surviving the Unspeakable in Auschwitz and Dora

Two months after his 19th birthday, Pierre Berg was still a cocky kid – riding his bicycle around Nice and dreaming of owning a beauty shop to support his future as a gigolo – when he was arrested by the Nazis. His “crime” wasn’t being Jewish. It was bad timing – he visited a friend at the same time the SS was searching for, and found a shortwave radio transmitter. Pierre was frisked, handcuffed, pushed into a car, and then put onto a train. Thus began his 18-month ordeal as a political prisoner and slave laborer. Thanks to what Pierre describes as “shithouse luck,” he narrowly escaped becoming another victim of the Nazi death machine.

In Scheisshaus Luck: Surviving the Unspeakable in Auschwitz and Dora, Pierre Berg tells his incredible Holocaust story – with striking immediacy, raw honesty, and twists of wry humor. This memoir is written from the perspective of a very young man fresh from the ex­perience because, in fact, Berg wrote the first draft in 1948, a year after his arrival in the United States and three years after VE Day. When he couldn’t find any takers for his story after the war, Berg put his manuscript in a drawer and left it there for nearly 50 years. Angered by Holocaust deniers, Pierre wanted to tell his story — A French gentile political prisoner, who witnessed, and barely survived, the systematic murder of 11 million people.

The book has its own website which includes extracts, interviews and videos. It is published by Amacom.

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The Box from Braunau

As a child, Jan Elvin thought very little about the tin box her father brought home from World War II. What she would soon learn was that the box had been a gift from an inmate at a German slave labor camp. Her discovery would start her on a long journey to uncover some of the fascinating and horrifying history surrounding the War, as well as a search to understand the man still haunted by its memories.

The Box from Braunau is both a daughter's emotional memoir of the unraveling and healing of a father-daughter relationship damaged by the ghosts of war, and a chronicle of a war veteran whose return to civilian life was marred by nightmares of combat and concentration camps. We follow the lives of journalist Bill Elvin and his daughter through excerpts from the riveting diary he kept during the war and private letters and newspaper articles he wrote as a journalist on his return. We follow him from his first days on the battlefield as a lieutenant in Patton's Army to his days at the Ebensee concentration camp, where he witnessed first-hand the prisoners' sufferings brought about by Nazi atrocities. We gain a new understanding of the War and its effects on the men who fought it.

Featuring exclusive interviews with family members and fellow soldiers, as well as with survivors of the camps, The Box from Braunau is an illuminating look at war through the eyes of one family. It is published by AMACOM.

The book has a detailed website which includes an excerpt and the table to contents.

Available from:

Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell?

Horace 'Jim' Greasley was twenty years of age in the spring of 1939 when Adolf Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia and latterly Poland. There had been whispers and murmurs of discontent from certain quarters and the British government began to prepare for the inevitable war.
After seven weeks training with the 2nd / 5th Battalion Leicester’s, he found himself facing the might of the German army in a muddy field south of Cherbourg, in Northern France, with just thirty rounds of ammunition in his weapon pouch.

Horace’s war didn’t last long. He was taken prisoner on 25th May 1940 and forced to endure a ten week march across France and Belgium en-route to Holland. Horace survived… barely… food was scarce, he took nourishment from dandelion leaves, small insects and occasionally a secret food package from a sympathetic villager, and drank rain water from ditches. Many of his fellow comrades were not so fortunate. Falling by the side of the road through sheer exhaustion and malnourishment meant a bullet through the back of the head and the corpse left to rot.
After a three day train journey without food and water, Horace found himself incarcerated in a prison camp in Poland.

It was there he embarked on an incredible love affair with a German girl interpreting for his captors. He experienced the sweet taste of freedom each time he escaped to see her, yet incredibly he made his way back into the camp each time, sometimes two, three times every week. Horace broke out of the camp then crept back in again under the cover of darkness after his natural urges were fulfilled. He brought food back to his fellow prisoners to supplement their meagre rations. He broke out of the camp over two hundred times and towards the end of the war even managed to bring radio parts back in. The BBC news would be delivered daily to over 3000 prisoners.

The official website of Do Birds Still Sing in Hell?

Obituary: Horace Greasley (Daily Telegraph 12th February 2010)

Available from:
Libros International

Out of the Italian Night - Wellington Bomber Operations 1944-45

During 1944 and 1945 the squadrons of 205 Group were launching air attacks from bases in Italy. In many ways their efforts were the same as those of aircrew attached to Bomber Command in Britain, yet conditions for the men were very different. The men fought their war as much against the weather, as against the enemy. The Wimpy, as the Wellington was affectionately known, had been operational when war was declared and five years on their young crews were still taking them into battle.

Maurice Lihou joined the RAF in 1939, just before the outbreak of war. He trained as a wireless operator to become aircrew, but found himself working in ground stations. He decided to re-muster as a pilot and completed his training in Canada where he was awarded his wings. He soon became captain of an aircraft and ferried a Wellington to North Africa. He was then posted to Italy and joined No 37 Squadron, becoming involved in various operations to harass the retreating German army.

Available from:
Pen and Sword

3 July 2009

Prisoner of the Rising Sun

This is the story of Stanley Wort, a young man thrust into the Royal Navy in distant Hong Kong. He relates some of the humorous situations in which he found himself and provides a realistic account of what life was like for servicemen in pre war Hong Kong.

It describes the prelude to war from his point of view and his part in the Battle for Hong Kong. There follows the story of what happened to him when taken prisoner and life and death in prison camps in Hong Kong and Japan. It tells what it was like to be shipped to Japan in the hold of Japanese merchantmen with constant fear of being torpedoed.

In Japan itself he and his fellow prisoners were used as slave labour. Treatment was harsh and brutal and although many of them died the Japanese never broke the spirit of the survivors.

The author explains how it felt to be a prisoner working in a Japanese factory when a major earthquake struck. He also relates what it was like to be on the receiving end of a B29 fire raid and what the Japanese did to downed American airmen. In August 1945 he saw the Japanese bow before loudspeakers and although he did not realize it then, heard the Japanese Emperor announce the surrender of Japan. The book contains a tribute to the efficiency and kindness of the American forces that got him out and on his way home.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

Cockleshell Commando: The Memoirs of Bill Sparks DSM

One of only two survivors of the famous Cockleshell Hero raid, Bill Sparks' war and post-war career has never before been told in full. In this gripping book, he describes not only his part in Operation FRANKTON, the daring Gironde raid, and his escape back to Britain, but how he fought with the Greek Sacred Squadron thereafter. Operating in small groups they raided and liberated islands in the Aegean Sea. After the war, bored with life as a bus driver, he joined the Malayan Police and saw action aplenty during the Emergency. Always something of a military maverick, Bill's memoir is truly action-packed. The book benefits from the inclusion of the official German investigation report into the Cockleshell Raid.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

Night Action: MTB Flotilla At War

This memoir is Peter Dickens' account of his experiences as the young commander of the 21st MTB Flotilla during 1942-43, mainly in the North Sea and the Channel. In all the annals of the war at sea, comparatively little has been written about the role of the torpedo boat, and yet these small and vulnerable boats, travelling at high speed amid storms and gunfire, and usually under the cover of darkness, managed to closely engage enemy convoys and escorts in high-speed attacks and wreak havoc among the German supply lines.

Like the sailors who fought against the U-boats in the battle of the Atlantic, Dickens and his comrades were experiencing a new kind of warfare and had to hit upon the techniques and tactics as they went along; their kind of action called for great courage, spilt-second timing and complete understanding between captain and crew.

Night Action is a lively and thrilling account, but also one which is frank and carefully considered; there is humour but the horror of war is never far away and the author conveys to the reader a sharp sense of the reality of those operations in a way that no history book can do.

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Pen & Sword

Heartland Heroes: Remembering World War II

Heartland Heroes is a collection of remarkable stories from ordinary men and women who lived through extraordinary times. They resided in places like Lee's Summit, Independence, and Kansas City, yet their experiences were very much like those of World War II veterans everywhere. Some were marines, nurses, or fighter pilots, others were simply civilians who lived through the war under the martial law imposed on the Hawaiian Islands after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In Heartland Heroes, Ken Hatfield gathers the stories of more than eighty men and women, whom he began interviewing in 1984 while reporting for a small weekly newspaper in Liberty, Missouri. Hatfield's first subject was a marine named Bob Barackman, the uncle of one of Hatfield's coworkers. That interview, which lasted for several hours, had a profound effect on Hatfield. He began to realize that as a journalist he had a unique opportunity to preserve that small piece of history each veteran carries with him.

Hatfield spent the next seventeen years interviewing nearly one hundred World War II veterans and other individuals, but it was not until August 2001 that he decided to compile the stories into a book. The interviewees, most of whom lived in the Kansas City area at the time of the interviews, included Jim Daniels, a Grumman Wildcat pilot, who while trying to land at Pearl Harbor on the evening after the Japanese attack survived a blizzard of friendly fire, which claimed the lives of three of his friends and fellow pilots; Charles McGee, a pilot with 143 combat missions to his credit, who fought the Germans in the air and racism on the ground as one of the Tuskegee Airmen; and Dee Nicholson, who was just six years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and her home on Hawaii. She and her father recall what life was like for them and others, including Japanese Americans, after that fateful day. Through their stories, Heartland Heroes effectively captures this fading period of time for future generations.

Available from:
University of Missouri Press

Japanese Eyes...American Hearts

Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, set Hawai`i on a new course of history that would affect every living soul in these Islands. How Hawai`i's people, particularly those of Japanese ancestry, responded to the act of aggression by Japan changed Hawai`i's social, economic, and political history forever.

Much has been written about how Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA) in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, and the 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion answered their country's call through military service - and the high price they paid in human lives in freedom's cause.

Not as thoroughly recorded, however, are the thoughts and innermost feelings of the nisei soldiers who put their lives on the line for their country, and what those experiences meant to them. Those stories have always been the most difficult to pry from the hearts and souls of the AJA men who served our country in World War II. It was that void in the story of Hawai`i's nisei soldiers that Bishop Ryokan Ara of the Tendai Educational Fund asked members of the Hawai`i Nikkei History Editorial Board to fill.

Japanese Eyes... American Heart is the result of that effort. It is a rare and powerful collection of personal thoughts written by the soldiers themselves, reflections of the men's thoughts as recorded in diaries and letters sent home to family members and friends, and other expressions about an episode that marked a turning point in the lives of many.

Available from:
University of Hawai'i Press

World War II Reflections: An Oral History of Pennsylvania's Veterans

Thirty veterans of World War II from Pennsylvania recall their time of service in France, Italy, Burma, Guadalcanal, the Philippines, and the Pacific in this new volume based on Pennsylvania Cable Network's award-winning series "World War II - In Their Own Words".

The very personal and deeply human accounts are presented in the veterans' own words, giving a perspective of the war through the eyes of ordinary citizen-soldiers. The stories range from profound experiences of dealing with death on a daily basis to the everyday facts of camp life, such as food, clothes, and leisure.

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Memoirs of a Hungary Soldier

Memoirs of a Hungary Soldier provides an insight into an area little covered by English language books - the experiences of a soldier in the Hungarian Army in World War II.

Joseph Gyokeri was a sergeant (Szakaszvezeto) in the Royal Hungarian Army field artillery. Enlisting in 1940, he fought in the Yugoslavia campaign in April 1941, and he was wounded twice, shot through the right thumb, and through the top of his left foot. In 1941, he was transferred to Hajmasker where he served until 1943, then in September of that year he was transferred to the 68th Border Guard Group located in Szekelyudvarhely (Transylvania, currently Romania). He remained there with his family until September 1944 when the Russians invaded.

For the next 8 months he, with his wife and young son retreated across Hungary and into Austria, where all three were captured by Russian forces near the city of Linz. His wife and son were released, but Joseph remained a prisoner from April 1945 to August 1945.

Thanks to the author, Joseph's grandson Joe Gyokeri, for this information.

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On A Green Twig

On a Green Twig is the memoir of Anna Klein Spencer who grew up in Germany during the Depression and World War II. Her lively, richly detailed recollections of rustic life in a Rhineland village provide invaluable perspective about German life before and after Hitler, Nazism and World War II. This personal account tells how a young girl’s family life and her community were turned upside down by world events. It offers a lesson in how perseverance and courage can transform tragedy and misfortune into a new lease on life – on a green twig.

The author has a blog dedicated to the book, and it is also possible to read selected pages on the publishers website.

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21 May 2009

Len's War: Ambulance Convoy Despatch Rider in WW2

Len's War is the story of Len Smith, a British Army despatch rider serving with an Ambulance Convoy in North Africa and Italy. The book has been produced by his son-in-law, Dave Hambridge, in an e-book format. It contains personal anecdotes and photographs from the period, and a general account of the combat for the non-specialist reader.

Sadly Len passed away in May 2009, just a month short of his 87th birthday.

The book is available free to read here.

16 May 2009

The Missing Years: A POW's Story from Changi to Hellfire Pass

The Missing Years is the story of Captain Hugh Pilkington's disastrous Malaya campaign in which he was shot by a Japanese sniper, became a PoW while hospitalised in Singapore, then— with only one good arm — was packed off to work on the Thai-Burma Death Railway.

This account has two unique elements which make it standout - Pilkington survived the infamous Alexandra Hospital Massacre of February 1942 and his memoirs were completed in October 1945 while on a POW repatriation ship, hence providing a raw, unfiltered, surprisingly dispassionate voice, undistorted by time.

Travel writer Stu Lloyd (who has spent 13 years in Southeast Asia) retraces the captain's steps with Pilkington's son Paul, to uncover Pilkington's past as a rubber planter and soldier, and find out— with often surprising results— what the locals today make of that period they know largely as 'Japan time'.

Captain Hugh Pilkington was born in India, 1904 and worked as a rubber planter in Malaya from 1922-37 before joining the Royal Norfolk Regiment in 1939. His knowledge of the tropics, landscape and language proved invaluable to the Allies. He died in 1982. Paul Pilkington was born in 1941 and was nearly five before he met his father, back from war.

Available from:
Rosenberg Publishing

Into Enemy Arms

Ditha Bruncel's detailed memory of living in Germany during the Second World War provides a rare, first-hand insight into the day-to-day struggle against Nazi oppression, when even small acts of defiance or resistance carried great personal risk.

In 1945, Ditha was living with her parents in the small town of Lossen, in Upper Silesia. Close Jewish friends had vanished, swastikas hung from every building, and neighbours were disappearing in the middle of the night. At the same time, more than one thousand, five hundred British and Commonwealth airmen were being marched out of Stalag Luft VII, a POW camp in Upper Silesia. Twenty three of these prisoners managed to escape from the marching column and by chance hobbled into Lossen. One amongst them, Warrant Officer Gordon Slowey, was the man Ditha was destined to meet and fall in love with.

This book tells the extraordinary story of Ditha and the escaped POWs she helped to save. Together, they embarked on a dangerous and daring flight out of Germany. As they faced exhaustion, hunger, extreme cold and the constant risk of discovery, Ditha and Gordon's love for one another intensified, and so did their determination to survive and escape together.

This book is based on Ditha's vivid recollections recorded by her nephew, Michael Hingston, in over a hundred hours of conversation between the two of them, as well as exhaustive research in archives to verify the facts.

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An Artilleryman in Stalingrad

In August 1942, Wigand Wüster was a veteran 22-year-old officer leading an artillery battery in Artillerie-Regiment 171 (71. Inf.-Div.) as it approached Stalingrad. The preceding months had been marked by heat, dust, endless marches, and brief skirmishes with the enemy - but mostly by an ongoing battle with his bullying battalion commander.

In this brutally honest account, Wüster provides a glimpse of the war on the Eastern Front rarely seen before. With frankness, humour and perception, Wüster takes us from the heady days of the German 1942 summer offensive to the icy hell of Stalingrad's final hours, and finally into captivity.

Available from:
Leaping Horseman Books

No Better Place To Die - Ste-Mère Eglise, June 1944 - The Battle for La Fière Bridge

In the early hours of D Day, the 505th Regimental Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division was dropped in Normandy. Its task was to seize the vital crossroads of Ste Mère Eglise, and to hold the bridge over the Merderet River at nearby La Fière. Benefiting from dynamic battlefield leadership, the paratroopers reached the bridge, only to be met by wave after wave of German tanks and infantry desperate to force the crossing.

Reinforced by glider troops, who suffered terribly in their landings from the now-alert Germans, the 505th not only held the vital bridge for three days but launched a counterattack to secure their objective once and for all, albeit at heavy cost. In No Better Place to Die, Robert M. Murphy provides an objective narrative of countless acts of heroism, almost breathtaking in its “you are there” detail.

Robert M. Murphy (1925-2008) joined the US Army in October 1942, serving with the 82nd Airborne in Italy, Holland, Africa, and Normandy. He received the Purple Heart (3), Valor (2), Bronze Star, Medal of Honor as well as the highest honor given by France, "The Legion of Honor".

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Halifax Down!: On the Run from the Gestapo 1944

On the night of 22/23rd April 1944 Tom Wingham was the bomb aimer in the crew of a 76 Squadron Halifax shot down while on the way to bomb Dusseldorf. Coming to in a tangle of parachute and harness straps he realised the precariousness of his situation and so, dazed and aching with a painful concussion and navigating by the stars alone, he quickly set off on his long and difficult journey home through occupied territory, constantly depending on the kindness of others who risked their lives to help keep him hidden. Tom made his way from Holland, at the hands of The Escape and was then passed via L'Armee Secrete, a London run organisation operating in the east of Belgium, but fell right into the path of the Gestapo. In a deadly game of hide and seek Tom evaded his captors long enough to witness the retreat of German soldiers as he stayed at the house of Madame Schoofs, which became a temporary German HQ.

In the 1980s Tom assisted a Dutch air historian with some research and this prompted him to look into the details of his own crash. What he uncovered not only shed more light on his own story but also those of his fellow crew members. He plotted approximately where each person landed that fateful night and slowly their incredible stories emerged. Added to his own experiences their accounts make "Halifax Down!" an extraordinary first hand insight into the experience of a heavy bomber crew shot down in World War Two.

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An Ordinary Signalman

John Raymond Dawson joined the Royal Navy in Leeds, his home town, in December 1940 aged 19, with his best friend Norman Brooks. He served until early 1946, which was when he wrote up his “diary” setting out his experiences during the War.

His son promised him in 1985 that one day he would write this up for publication. John agreed but only if this was after his death. Sadly this came too soon in the following year when he was aged just 64. In 1999, letters John had written during the War to his elder sister Eileen were found in her attic when she was moving. This provided more valuable material for the book.

Being a signalman in the Royal Navy led John to see parts of the world he would not otherwise have seen. He saw danger even in his training at Devonport from severe German bombing in the week of his arrival. He visited the USA and Canada before a relatively quiet time based in Scotland on HMS Forth, a submarine depot ship. John had to swim for his life in January 1944 when after being involved at Minturno and Anzio, HMS Spartan was sunk. He and most survivors then joined one of the light cruiser HMS Aurora, on which he saw action at the invasion of the South of France at Toulon, and at the liberation of Greek islands and Greece itself.

The diary and letters provide an insight into the adventures of a young man from Leeds,
progressing from Ordinary Signalman to Yeoman of Signals, seeing action from the bridge in his signalman’s role. They also provide an insight into the effects on him being far from home and what was a very close family, with his strong beliefs and views often expressed.

Available from:
Melrose Books

Memoirs of a B-29 Pilot

Charles R. Reyher, Major, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) memoir is of the author’s wartime experiences leading up to and as a B-29 Superfortress Aircraft Commander.. He was participated in the air offensive against Japan from the Marianas Islands in the South Pacific.

After graduation as a pilot cadet, he became a bomb approach pilot at a bombardier training base for one year. Then, rated as a B-17 Flying Fortress 1st Pilot, he spent six months duty as a B-17 instructor pilot at an airbase training new B-17 crews as replacements for the 8th Air Force in England. Many months of training to be a B-29 Aircraft Commander followed.

He arrived at newly constructed Northwest Field, Guam, in early June 1945. 125 factory-new B-29B Superfortresses made up the new 315th Very Heavy Bomb Wing. He and his crew flew 13 missions before the end of the war, all against oil targets.

In addition to covering his wartime service, the author concludes the book with several chapters detailing various aspects of the air war against Japan and how he believes attacking Japan’s oil refineries and supplies could have ended the war even without the use of the atomic bombs.

Available from:
Merriam Press

After the Battle issue 144

The latest issue of the excellent After the Battle magazine has just come out. Issue 144 contains articles on the Battle of El Guettar in Tunisia in 1943 between the US 1st Armored, 1st Infantry and 9th Infantry Divisions and seasoned Axis troops; the story of POW Camp No. 13 at Murchison in Australia - home to 2,100 Italian, 1,300 German and 185 Japanese prisoners from April 1941 to January 1947; Putting a Name to a Face - the story of how American researcher Norman S. Lichtenfeld identified an unknown GI featured in photographs of captured POWs in Jean Paul Pallud's book Battle of the Bulge Then and Now, traced him to New Jersey and put a name to his face: George E. Shomo; and lastly the always interesting From the Editor section - Readers' letters and follow-up stories on previous issues. Highly recommended.

Available in some newsagents in the UK and directly from the publishers After the Battle.

12 May 2009

New & Notable - 12th May

Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War
by Bruce M. Petty

The battle for Saipan is remembered as one of the bloodiest battles fought in the Pacific during World War II, and was a turning point on the road to the defeat of Japan. In this work, the survivors—including Pacific Islanders on whose land the Americans and Japanese fought their war—have the opportunity to tell their stories in their own words. The author offers an introduction to the volume and arranges the oral histories by location—Saipan, Yap and Tinian, Rota, Palau Islands, and Guam—in the first half, and by branch of service (Marines, Army, Navy, Airforce & Home Front) in the second half.

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The Bamboo Cage
The POW Diary of Flight Lieutenant Robert Wyse 1942-43
Edited by Jonathon F. Vance

Robert Wyse enlisted in the RAF in the late 1930s. Too old to be trained as a pilot, he became a flight controller and served throughout the Battle of Britain. In late 1941, his squadron was despatched to the Far East. The Japanese soon invaded, and Robert Wyse, along with tens of thousands of his comrades, became a prisoner of war. Shortly after arriving in his first prison camp, Wyse returned to keeping the diary he had begun en route to the Far East. Although P.O.W.s were forbidden to keep diaries, Wyse persevered and hid his journal, usually in a bamboo pole beside his bed. Over two years, he kept a detailed record of life in various camps in Sumatra, only ending in December of 1943 when it became too dangerous. He buried his notes, intending to return to claim them after the war.

The diary is a remarkably detailed and frank portrayal of life as a prisoner. Wyse was sharply critical of some of his fellow P.O.W.s, either for botching the defence of Java and Sumatra or for failing to provide the proper leadership in captivity. Nor did he hesitate to describe the savage conduct of his captors, although sometimes clearly struggling to find the words to adequately describe the brutalities he had witnessed.

Wyse spent over three years in enemy hands (the first two of which are described in this diary) before being liberated in the late summer of 1945. He was hospitalized for some time and didn’t return home until late 1946, his health ruined by the privations of his imprisonment. He died in 1967 at the age of 67.

Available from:
Goose Lane Editions