Book review: Forgotten Voices of World War Two

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Forgotten Voices of World War Two is one of those rare gems of a book that reminds its readers that the last world conflict was not all generals, admirals and sweeping campaigns. It was fought by ordinary people from all walks of life – people who suffered and watched their friends die and saw comrades maimed. For most people, World War Two and Hitler robbed six years of their lives. When it was over, they had to pick up the pieces of their lives, and make do as best as they could. Everything they had fought for, the camaraderie, the sense of common purpose, was all gone. Many wept.  
After the war, most people did, in fact, put the conflict behind them and got on with the 1950s and 1960s, their experiences unrecorded. Winston Churchill on occasion said that he expected history to be kind to him, as he intended to right it. To date, he has been largely correct, as have most of the generals, admirals and other notables who followed his example. It was only in recent years, the last decade or two, that the experiences of ordinary people were recorded, mostly on audio or video tape. Forgotten Voices of World War Two is an eclectic collection of voices from the Imperial War Museum`s Sound Archive. A few German and French voices aside, most of the interviews were with British and Commonwealth survivors. A few American voices are also heard.
As befits the title, most of those interviewed are not names one would instantly recognize – or at all. But the views they record of events often already well recorded, are invaluable. But even more so are the hundreds of anecdotes recording “non-events” and the antics of soldiers and civilians when out of the eye of historians. As a result it is an exciting read and easy on the eye. Of particular interest is how different people, on the same or opposing sides viewed the same event – showing how much history is often in the eye of the beholder.
Max Arthur
In Association with the Imperial War Museum
Forgotten Voices of World War Two
Ebury Press
2004