by David Stafford
New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2003. Pp. 377.
Illus., map, biblio., index. $26.95. ISBN:0-316-60561-1
David Stafford, for those who don’t know of his writings, is one of the most prominent and incisive historians of the Second World War in the area of intelligence and secret activities. He’s written books on SOE operations in Europe and America, the uses of intelligence by various heads of state, and various other topics along those lines. This book is very much a departure for him: though there are SOE operatives in the book, the focus, is instead on the various roles that people played during the Second World War. The book follows a number of individuals during the ten days leading up to the D-Day invasion itself. Each of the individuals has something unique about them, something that makes them unusual, though they were also rather mundane individuals also. The book spends considerably less time detailing what Eisenhower, Montgomery, Rommel, and Hitler were doing than most other books on D-Day, instead concentrating on the actions and daily life of these other, more mundane individuals. They include a female code clerk in the British Navy, an SOE operative in France, a young French schoolteacher who spies for the British, a Norwegian resister who was imprisoned for publishing an underground newspaper, a Jew in occupied France who hides in his neighbor’s maid’s quarters, and common Canadian, American, and German soldiers (one each).
While this isn’t one of Stafford’s more intellectual exercises dealing with intelligence issues, it’s still an interesting look at the Second World War from an unusual perspective. Those common people are interesting, and the points of view of those individuals, their daily lives, and the things that happen to them as the invasion occurs, are interesting and frankly the sort of thing we don’t read about that much. The author discusses such things as sporting events (there was a relatively important cricket championship just a few days before D-Day), newspapers, and other such things. One of the pictures in the illustration section shows Allied tanks lined up for D-Day on a road through an English village, with housewives hanging up their washing right next to the tanks.
This is one of those books that provides an interesting perspective on the war, and I would recommend it highly.