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The Second World War Through Soldiers' Eyes (ePub)

British Army Life, 1939–1945

Military WWII

By James Goulty
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
File Size: 16.9 MB (.epub)
Pages: 240
Illustrations: 30 black and white
ISBN: 9781473875067
Published: 16th May 2016


£4.99 Print price £19.99

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'What was it really like to serve in the British Army during the Second World War?

Discover a soldier's view of life in the British Army from recruitment and training to the brutal realities of combat. Using first-hand sources, James Goulty reconstructs the experiences of the men and women who made up the 'citizen's army'. Find out about the weapons and equipment they used; the uniforms they wore; how they adjusted to army discipline and faced the challenges of active service overseas.

What happened when things went wrong? What were your chances of survival if you were injured in combat or taken prisoner? While they didn't go into combat, thousands of women also served in the British Army with the ATS or as nurses. What were their wartime lives like? And, when the war had finally ended, how did newly demobilised soldiers and servicewomen cope with returning home?

The British Army that emerged victorious in 1945 was vastly different from the poorly funded force of 865,000 men who heard Neville Chamberlain declare war in 1939. With an influx of civilian volunteers and conscripts, the army became a citizens force and its character and size were transformed. By D-Day Britain had a well-equipped, disciplined army of over three million men and women and during the war they served in a diverse range of places across the world. This book uncovers some of their stories and gives a fascinating insight into the realities of army life in wartime.

A book I would definitely recommend.

Read the Full Review Here

British Modern Military History Society

There is a good bibliography and index, but above all, the book has been well-written; it’s interesting and compelling and I for one will be keeping it close to hand for future reference.

Read the full review here

Amazon Customer

James Goulty has done an excellent job in selecting quotations as his research must have led him to a very large pool. His text causes one to feel that ‘this is how it really was’.
It is not a large book, 179 pages, and therefore gives only an overview but the bibliography is very extensive. There is also a set of well annotated photographs.
Having read many books on detailed aspects of WW2 this book has a value in that it causes one to stand back and perhaps find a new focus. If you start this book you won’t put it down and we recommend you start it.

Read the full review here

Clash of Steel

Through a series of thematically based chapters - on recruitment, life overseas, demobilisation, and many other subjects - James Goulty explores their experiences.

Military History Matters Feb/March 21

Article: 'Military book explores human element of war' words by Georgia Langdon

Hexham Courant

News article: New book from Pen and Sword examines what it was like to serve in the British Army during WWII as featured by

The Armourer

Author interview as featured on

Radio Northumberland, with presenter Keith Newman 3rd March 2021

Click here to read author article (page 19)

Irregular magazine, issue 14 Volume 2/Winter 2020

It’s not often that a book can be packed with so much information from hundreds of different sources, and still remain clear and concise. James Goulty has managed to achieve this with his fascinating, The Second World War Through Soldiers’ Eyes. The book takes the reader through the gamut of experiences a British soldier could expect between 1939 and 1945. Whether it was using a jerrycan to make a rudimentary stove in the North African desert; or picking up a ‘demob suit’ if you were lucky enough to survive the Malayan jungle, Goulty has deftly covered it all. Well structured, the book guides the reader through every aspect of British Army life, from call-up and training, to becoming a casualty or Prisoner of War. It’s peppered with first-hand accounts from all kinds of servicemen and women, including many from celebrities such as Spike Milligan and Alan Whicker. The is a useful reference book offering a particularly strong ‘whiff of cordite’.

International Guild of Battlefield Guides - Paul Bingley

I liked this book for its honesty. So often we get the overdramatised versions of real stories, where the producers and directors forget the actual human who lived through the events they are depicting. Books like this one are far more honest.

Yes, I understand that memories are not infallible, but there are some situations we live through that are hard to forget, and the detail in the recollections of these soldiers was startling. It's hard to imagine for me, as a non-combatant civilian to truly understand the many experiences they had and what they had to bring home with them--for those who made it home, but this book depicts those horrors and deprivations very well.

Not every story in this book is depressing, some are tinged with humour and some are simple accounts of things the general public might not be aware of, having not lived it themselves. Either way, this is an important book, as it gives in detail a piece of history that has been fading from memory for years. Recommended.

NetGalley, Ionia Froment

The author has undertaken a huge task of decanting an enormous amount of first-hand. accounts into headings and chapters. What a task that has been. How difficult at times to decide what to include and what to leave out. The book successfully reveals a considerable insight into being a serving soldier during the Second World War, is absorbing and therefore highly recommended.

The five chapters Call-Up and Training; Life on Active Service; Enduring Active Service; Prisoner of War Experiences and Casualties and Medical Matters will act as great background material for the general reader and detail for the more dedicated reader of military history.

Robert Bartlett, September 2020

As the title suggests, the book covers the entire Second World War from 1939 to 1945 in virtually every theatre of war and covers the distinct phases of a soldier's fighting career.
The author has skilfully collated hundreds of eye witness accounts into a very readable book. Many of the stories are quite graphic in their descriptions of battlefield scenes and the horrendous effects of various weapons on the human body. I have studied many aspects of WW2 but was unaware that around 70% of casualties were caused by artillery and mortar fire. Small arms fire accounts for a small proportion of deaths.
By the nature of this book, it is quite easy to dip-in and dip-out of without losing any of the overall context - a great benefit for those of us who are often strapped for time. However, be warned - some sections of the book are so absorbing it will be difficult for the reader to put down.

NetGalley, Peter Coxall

It does provide an easy to read and accessible insight into how citizens were swept up into the British Army and served across all theatres. Overall, it was an interesting read that is unlikely to leave readers disappointed.

NetGalley, K Manley

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Second World War Through Soldiers’ Eyes follows the accounts of several soldiers as they serve in the British Armed Forces throughout World War II, and the evolution of the army as it went from a disorganized civilian force to the more recognizable, massive powerhouse it became by the end of the war.

As an American person with a specific insterest in World War II military history, I was thankful to have read this book because it’s much easier to find firsthand accounts of the American involvement in the war, but finding any sources that are both reputable and accurate with regards to the rest of the world requires a little more effort. I love to see the similarities and the differences between both armies and I especially loved the opportunity to expand my worldview.

I especially appreciated the inclusion of the nurse corps in this book alongside the male troops.

The living memory of World War II is rapidly becoming even more and more rare so the personal anecdotes and immersion in the book was very well done and appreciated. This was a very accessible and easy to read book, without any sign of pretentiousness or any assumption that the reader is a master level historian upon first glance. It was a nice, middle of the road, unassuming account of the war and overall very well done.

I hope that this book is released in print in the States because I definitely want a copy for my bookshelves.

NetGalley, Traci Nash

It gives you such a great insight into what it was like to be a serving soldier in the Second World War... A great read!

Watch the full video review here

Scale Modelling Now

By skillfully blending the narrative with first-hand accounts, Goulty has produced a well-written and compelling read.

Journal of the Second World War Experience Centre

An interesting read and one that does well in describing what the experience of serving in WW2 was like for the British soldier.

Read the complete review here.

Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland

Made up of five chapters called Call-Up and Training; Life on Active Service; Enduring Active Service; Prisoner of War Experiences and Casualties and Medical Matters the book is rounded off by an extensive bibliography listing a large number of county records, IWM interviews and secondary sources.

There are a few black and white photographs in the centre of the book but you will not be distracted by them, as the text is thoroughly engaging from the start the to finish as you digest personal stories from the mundane every day routine events through to the horror of full blown conflict.

While this is a very personal book, for many it will also prove to be a great resource and reference for the future.

Military Modelling, 4803

As reviewed in

The Northumbrian

The book is well structured with chapters on call-up and training, life on active service, enduring active service, prisoner of war experiences, and casualties and medical matters. Within each chapter are sub chapters and thus in, for example, the enduring active service chapter, there are separate sections dealing with battle fatigue, desertion and self-inflicted wounds; discipline in the field; welfare and entertainment, and so on.

The author has drawn on much original source material and whilst there is perhaps an over-reliance on material from archives in the north-east, I suspect that this doesn’t matter too much as a Tyne and Wear soldier’s experiences would probably be found to be much the same as those of men from say, the Midlands, or Sussex.

James Goulty knows his stuff and more to the point, he also knows how to write engagingly; two essential characteristics of any military history book. I like this book a lot, and as we approach these milestone anniversaries for the conflict - 75 years, 80 years, 90 years etc - and public interest is sparked and sparked again, this book is going to come into its own more and more. This would suit school libraries very well, but it has a far wider audience than that and deserves to do well.

There is a good bibliography and index, but above all, the book has been well-written; it’s interesting and compelling and I for one will be keeping it close to hand for future reference.

Amazon, Old Soldier Sahib

James Goulty has utilised personal testimonies from the Imperial War Museum, Northumberland Archives and interviews he has carried out himself, combined with memoirs, diaries and written accounts from numerous archives including Durham County Records Office, Lincolnshire Archives, Tyne & Wear Archives to ensure first hand testimony in central to The Second World War Through Soldiers' Eyes.

Recollections of WWII

About James Goulty

James Goulty holds a masters degree and doctorate in military history from the University of Leeds, and he has a special interest in the training and combat experience of ordinary soldiers during the world wars and Korean War. His previous publications include Second World War Lives: A Guide for Family Historians, The Second World War through Soldiers’ Eyes: British Army Life 1939-45, Eyewitness Korea: The Experience of British and American Soldiers in the Korean War 1950-1953 and Eyewitness RAF: The Experience of War 1939-1945.

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