24 March 2009

Mollie & Other War Pieces

A. J. Liebling (1904-1963) was an American war correspondent for the New Yorker. He sailed to Algeria in November 1942 to cover the fighting on the Tunisia front, later participated in the Normandy landings on D Day, and was with the Allied forces when they entered Paris.

'Mollie & Other War Pieces' is a collection of short stories written by Liebling during the war, focusing attention on individual soldiers, sailors and airmen who he met during his time overseas. In the original newspaper stories, these individuals remained anonymous. In the book Liebling has provided their names, in most (but not all) cases.

The stories include 'Confusion is normal in combat' - Liebling's search for the truth behind a 'legendary' soldier in the US 9th Division in Tunisia. Mollie (real name Karl Warner) was reknowned for outlandish dress, attitude to Army discipline, and bravery. Posthumously awarded the Silver Star, Mollie was killed in 1943. The story is supported by excellent descriptions of his daily experiences in Tunisia with the US Army.

'For Boots Norgaard' considers Liebling's time with a P-38 Squadron in Tunisia; 'Direction: Paris' describes the advance across France and the liberation of the French capital; 'And So To Victory', Liebling's famous account of D Day was written while onboard LCIL-88 at Omaha Beach; and 'The Massacre' - a chilling account of the murder of civilians in the village of Comblanchien in Southern France by German forces in August 1944 - an event which seems to be little known 65 years later.

Having picked up this book in a remainder shop, I wasn't sure what to expect. It turned out to be one of the best written personal recollections I've read in a long time. Granted, it was written by a professional journalist, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone with an interest in personal recollections of WWII.

Available from:
Bison Books (University of Nebraska Press)

Further reading:
Comblanchien - photo gallery (website in French)

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