The Second World War Through Soldiers' Eyes...


...British Army Life 1939-1945 from Pen and Sword


Title: The Second World War Through Soldiers' Eyes

Author: James Goulty

Publisher: Pen and Sword

ISBN: 978-1-78159-298-4

Not a particular battle but a look at what life was like generally for the British soldier in WW2.  It's about the experiences, what individual felt like and what did they go through in their life in the army.  It was also different between the beginning and the end of the war, as experience was gained.  It brought back a memory of my own, when some years ago I met an elderly lady here in the UK,  As a young woman she had lived in Paris and been part of the escape organisation known as 'Lifeline', and she guided British airmen across the city.  I remember I asked her how she had felt during that time.  She reacted with some surprise and told me I was only the second person to have bothered to ask her how she had felt since the end of the war.  Doing our best to understand what the experience was like to have lived through such momentous times has remained one of my particular interests ever since.

The book is divided into 5 chapters, looking at Call-Up and Training: Life on Active Service: Enduring Active Service: Prisoner of War Experiences: and Casualties and Medical Matters.  Each of these are then sub-divided with a number of sub-headings tackling particular experiences.  Just to pick out a couple of examples of these sub-headings, they include Infantry Training, Officer Selection & Training, Troopship Life, Food and Rations, Capture, Medical Care and many others.  Throughout the book there are recollections from soldiers describing their particular experiences, and some of these are well known names.  Again, to pick a couple of examples, they include Major Bill Close, well known for his own accounts, along with the actor Dirk Bogarde, politician Dennis Healey and famous comedian, Spike Milligan among many others.  As the author points out in the book, the British army of around 800,000 men and women at the start of the war was quite different to the 3.5million at the end.  The book is neatly rounded off with a final look at The Aftermath, 1945-46, as all those service men and women faced up to their return to civilian life.  An interesting read and one that does well in describing what the experience of serving in WW2 was like for the British soldier.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.