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All Posts, Military History, Pen and Sword Books

Author Guest Post: James Goulty

A Troopship Officer in the South-West Pacific – Doctor Warren Adams

Today we have a guest post from author and historian James Goulty.

Warren Adams was raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota during the inter-war years. Today he is a retired grandfather in his 90s settled in North East England having pursued a distinguished and varied academic career after his wartime service in the United States Navy (USN). His grandparents lived into their 80s and 90s and he might also attribute his own longevity to being a descendent of Presidents John Adams (1735-1826) and John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) both of whom were comparatively long lived for their era.

Growing up during
the 1930s was tough, not least owing to the economic conditions of
the period. His family had to sell their home which had belonged to
the Adams family for three generations. As a boy Warren’s life was
also hit by tragedy when his younger brother, aged only five died
which had a deeply traumatic effect on the family, especially his
mother. Warren had to follow in the footsteps of a successful older
brother, Forrest Hood Adams who became an eminent medic specialising
in paediatric cardiology, and this was difficult at the best of

When growing up
matters were further complicated for Warren owing to his small
physical stature. As he recalled ‘I was very small for my age, not
even 5 feet at 17 years old when I went to college.’ This led to
him being bullied at school and created several embarrassing moments.
‘Once when auditioning for a school play, a girl’s voice was
deeper than mine.’ Unlike his older brother, Warren lacked focus
and by his own admission he was a hyperactive and troublesome

In an effort to
help Warren, his father strongly encouraged him to become involved in
sporting pursuits, notably tennis. By the time he was 15 years old he
had been crowned boys North-West clay court champion, leading his
father to hope that he might even make to major tournaments such as
Wimbledon as an adult. However, Warren’s academic interests did not
flourish until after the Second World War. While still at school one
teacher sought to encourage him academically by threatening to ‘ban
him from athletics.’ This seemed to work and as he remembered ‘my
grades started to improve, especially in chemistry.’

Warren eventually
graduated from high school in 1940-41 and subsequently went to work
at his uncle’s timber yard in California. Here he became aware of
the local Japanese immigrant population and the common complaint
amongst Americans that ‘the Japanese work too hard.’ With
tensions between America and Japan escalating Warren became aware
that the Japanese were also being interned into camps, something he
considered was a prime example of fear dominating the decision making

Having broken
the Japanese diplomatic codes the American Government was aware of
Japan’s hostile intentions during 1941, but remained ignorant of
her precise plans. In the early hours of 7 December the American
Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii was target by a
Japanese surprise air strike. The large warships, many of which were
berthed alongside each other made an excellent target, although the
three air craft carriers that were part of the Pacific Fleet were
absent. In around two hours the Japanese sunk five battleships, three
destroyers, one mine-layer and destroyed around 200 aircraft and
killed in excess of 2,350 American service personnel. During the
entire operation the Japanese only lost 29 aircraft and 55 men. As
historian H. P. Willmott observed ‘carrier aircraft had shown at
minimal cost to themselves they could destroy battleships far beyond
the horizon range.’ Events at Pearl Harbour catapulted Warren
into the Second World War and at 17 years old he was eligible for the
draft. Because he had already enrolled in a USN officer training
programme combined with one years’ study he was destined for naval
service. As he enjoyed swimming and had sailed a boat as a boy this
appealed to Warren. He later admitted he also chose the navy because
he didn’t think he would be able to qualify as a pilot or aircrew.
Soon Warren was posted to San Francisco ahead of being deployed to
the South- West Pacific during early 1942.

Rapidly his
inexperience came to the fore during the outward voyage to the
Solomon Islands. To avoid become seasick he and a comrade spent the
night ‘top side’ on their transport. ‘We made the mistake of
staying downwind of the smoke stack not realising they would blow the
tubes at night and we got covered in carbon/smoke etc.’

As a comparatively
lowly ensign he joined AP 41 USS
an aging vessel that had been requisitioned by the USN as a troopship
during the summer of 1941. She had originally been the SS

built in 1918 by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company in Manitowoc,
Wisconsin and was comparatively small and slow. Her steam turbine
could propel her at a top speed of 9.6 knots, and there was space to
carry around 300 troops in addition to the crew of 132 men. Warren
remembers her with some fondness despite her age and deficiencies.
‘We would bring in troop reinforcements to places such as the
Solomon Islands and ferry out the wounded, plus deliver post, food
and wine when times were slack. The wine always seemed especially


spent the bulk of the war (c. August 1942-April 1945) in the
South-West Pacific theatre where as Warren said she delivered troops
and cargo to both rear areas and advanced bases. As the campaign
progressed and American forces penetrated deeper into the Pacific her
ports of call increased. As well as New Zealand and New Caladonia,
she would eventually call at the Solomon, Treasury, St. Matthias, New
Hebrides and Russell Islands, plus New Guinea. She ended the war
taking part in operations to liberate the Philippines, and remained
there until December 1945, before sailing back to the United States
the following year to be decommissioned.

As a junior officer
Warren had several duties aboard USS
including mounting watches. As he had good night vision for much of
his service he was assigned the mid-watch (midnight until 4 am) both
at sea and when in port. Even so, there were numerous challenges to
be overcome in fulfilling this duty. Warren vividly recounted that it
took time to realise that ‘Dolphins swimming through the water were
not torpedo trails’ as the two looked remarkably similar to the

He was also in
charge of the deck men or deck crew, comprised from all those sailors
who lacked engineering or specialist trade training. It was their job
to keep the deck clear, clean the ship, and perform any general
maintenance tasks that were required. Although they lacked specialist
training, many of the men were experienced sailors, and some had even
been fishermen in civilian life. Most were considerably older than
Warren and he discovered being in charge of them rapidly taught him
the value of establishing ‘good relationships with those you have
to work with’ and developing man management skills.

Under Warren in the
deck crew was an experienced NCO known as Woody who had been in the
navy for several years prior to the war. Every morning Woody would
consult with Warren about the duties for that day. As Warren
explained typically I would say to Woody ‘You know what the deck
crew have to do. We’d have a brief talk and he would tell me what
they have to do. Then we’d assemble them and I would tell them what
needed doing and put Woody in charge. This worked well and Woody was
very happy.’

Towards the end of
his naval service Warren was supervising the deck crew when they were
tasked with painting the sides of the ship once safely moored at
Pearl Harbour. There was to be no leave for them until the job was
completed. With the men’s welfare in mind Warren had arranged for
them to start the job promptly and even joined in to help them with
the painting. He was spotted by the captain who was about to head for
shore in a dingy and admonished for ‘getting down and working with
the men.’ As Warren observed he was told in no uncertain terms that
in the navy it was not considered the position of an officer to
behave like this, and he had to go to his cabin with the captain’s
voice booming in his ears. This experience, plus the disparity
between the men and officers that he frequently witnessed during the
war, was one factor that encouraged him not to pursue a naval career
after his war service was completed.

Another task that
befell Warren was to be in charge of the care of troops when they
were being transported aboard USS
They endured fairly primitive conditions in the hold where soldiers
had to sling-up hammocks, and Warren remembered he often heard
complaints that ‘rats woke them up at night.’ Only salt water
showers were available, and this added to the troop’s discomfort
when salt dried on their bodies in the humid conditions of the
South-West Pacific. Many were also hungry, and would demand
vociferously ‘we want food,’ leading Warren to quickly climb back
up the decks main ladder and attempt to rectify the situation.
Typically, the USN provided rations that were an improvement on what
most soldiers received. This led Warren to appreciate how well off he
was compared with the troops they transported, plus he had access to
a good shower every night, something most soldiers could only dream
about when on active service.

Periodically Warren
had to ascend the crow’s nest in order to check it, and report on
the condition of the ladder. Even for an athletic 19 year old keen on
sports this was a tough assignment owing to the movement of the ship
at sea, as well as the height of the ladder. He was even less keen on
having to go down into the hold to the ‘main shaft on my hands and
knees to certify the automatic liquidators were working.’ Once
when he had to do this the alarm sounded, and ‘I knew I could not
get back up the ladder which caused me to have a panic attack before
the all clear sounded.’ In old age this would trouble him again
when he was temporarily immobilised owing to undergoing surgery on
his knees.

Another feature of
Warren’s service as the First Lieutenant or Ensign aboard USS

was his interaction with the rest of the crew. Among the senior
officers were the Captain and Executive Officer who remained fairly
remote figures, plus a Medical Officer who was a doctor specialising
in plastic surgery. As he put it ‘companionship aboard ship was
relatively inadequate.’ Although the navigator was a friend from
high school the only other young officer who came from the East Coast
was particularly immature, even playing child-like games on deck.

There were another
two more senior officers, one of whom was a former policeman, and
‘both out for their own good.’ Warren recalled they were ‘not
considerate of the men,’ particularly when on leave at some
islands. ‘They always headed for the nearest officer’s club and
as troop officer I could never get these two to help the men get beer
and go to a recreation area because such parties needed an officer
present to make them legitimate.’

Warren discovered
he had replaced a first lieutenant who was a Southerner and had run
fundamental church sessions every Sunday. This was before being
spotted coming aboard with a woman at a port in New Zealand. Owing to
the hypocrisy of the situation the captain had stopped the services.
He also became aware of the level of racial discrimination that
existed in the USN. During the 1940s the American armed forces were
organised along racially segregated lines and this didn’t start to
effectively change until the Korean War (1950-1953). Aboard USS

there were around five black personnel who were all assigned to the
officer’s mess, and according to Warren ‘lived in crowded
quarters in a disagreeable part of the ship, one was even a
university graduate and they deserved better.’

Sailors who served
for two years or more in the South-West Pacific ran the risk of
becoming what was termed ‘jungle happy,’ when the isolation and
conditions of active service started to affect them adversely. Warren
vividly recalled encountering a sailor on one watch who had succumbed
to this condition and drunk himself into a stupor using home-made
alcohol. The man eventually had to be court martialled. He found the
man ‘perched on top of equipment like a bird, smelling like a
barber shop.’ It was a common practice for men to attempt to steal
alcohol from the ship’s compass which had to be locked to protect
it, but in this case the sailor had made his own brew by ‘straining
shaving lotions through bread to get neat alcohol,’ hence the
barber shop smell.

Warren’s service
aboard USS

was intimately connected with the epic naval and land based battles
for Guadalcanal. In August 1942 US Marines had landed there and began
what writer and broadcaster Charles Roetter described as, ‘a bitter
six-month struggle for the possession of a fever-ridden, almost
uninhabitable, yet priceless piece of land.’ Japanese control of
the Solomon Islands had led to the establishment of a base at
Guadalcanal which threatened to severe sea supply routes between
America and Australia, and it was this that had precipitated an
American offensive. Initially the Americans achieved surprise, but
soon the Japanese began mounting resistance, particularly via heavy
air attacks.

Typically, Japanese
ground troops also proved fanatical, even when outnumbered, before
the last units were eventually evacuated in February 1943. The
Americans suffered approximately 6,000 total casualties in the land
campaign, while the Japanese received an estimated 14,000 killed or
wounded, and 9,000 dead through disease/starvation.

Simultaneous to the
land campaign several naval actions took place with both sides
eventually losing around 25 major warships. At the Battle of Savo
Island on 9 August Japanese skill at night warfare and the handling
of torpedoes came to the fore sinking four USN cruisers and one
destroyer. Subsequently, at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons an
American naval force successfully intercepted a Japanese convoy
carrying reinforcements for Guadalcanal. However, the action severely
depleted the USN’s carrier strength in the area as both the USS

and USS

were damaged.

At the Battle of
Cape Esperance in October another Japanese transport force was
engaged, although it managed to land troops successfully. Later that
month at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands the Japanese again
inflicted heavy damage on American aircraft carriers but had two
their own damaged in return. The naval campaign reached a climax in
November when a series of Japanese efforts to land reinforcements
were countered, with the ultimate result that the USN achieved naval
supremacy in the region, despite the losses that it had suffered.

By holding onto
Guadalcanal the Americans kept open communications with Australia,
and were able to establish naval and air bases vital to the support
of future operations in the region. According to historian and US
Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Joe Mueller, ‘Guadalcanal provided
an archetype for jungle and naval warfare in the Pacific’ and
proved ‘a hard fought campaign that shattered the myth of Japanese

While the fighting
raged on and around Guadalcanal, USS

continued to be deployed in the area ferrying in reinforcements,
evacuating wounded, and bringing in supplies where and when required.
Her relatively small size (length 261 feet, beam 43 feet 6 inches)
proved a distinct asset, particularly when compared with larger troop
transports. As Warren noted ‘our small size allowed us to enter and
negotiate the many small harbours in the region fairly easily.’

During 1942-43
Warren continued to develop as a young man, and gained an
appreciation of USN life, which under wartime conditions threw up
some unusual circumstances, which probably would not have been
tolerated in peacetime. At one island the USS Stratford acquired a
jeep which had been parked by another unit near their berth. As
Warren explained ‘one time the ship picked-up or ‘‘borrowed’’
this jeep, it was the kind of crazy thing that happened in a war
situation.’ At Guadalcanal he was also warned that it was advisable
to avoid the US Marines HQ, as not only were these troops extremely
tough and battle hardened, but an inexperienced naval officer like
Warren ran the risk of being wounded and he remembered being told
‘the Marines would probably steal your watch.’

On another occasion
he managed to locate a friend from North Minnesota who was serving
with the Seabees, one of the naval construction battalions or CBs
which gave them their popular name. They were tasked with work such
as repairing the airfield at Guadalcanal and other facilities
including docks. However, as Warren discovered the Seabees also had a
prominent role to play in building officer’s quarters and he was
mightily impressed when his friend’s unit threw parties. After
sharing a few beers with Seabee officers one night, Warren engaged in
a youthful act of fun that belied his relative inexperience, and
could have potentially had serious repercussions. ‘I decided to
role a coconut over a Quonset hut [equivalent to a pre-fabricated
steel Nissen hut] and the sound it made sounded like the ‘‘brr
brr’’ of a Japanese machine gun. Sometimes there were raids by
Japanese troops and we all had to spend the night in fox holes with
snakes etc. I didn’t let on that it was me and it was quite an
experience, all part of growing up.’

Warren was also
impressed by the sight of a PT boat unit that was based at one island
they stopped at. These were the American equivalent to British Motor
Torpedo Boats (MTBs) and to a young man like Warren they appeared
‘exotic, like military speed boats.’

During his service
in the Solomon Islands he also nearly had the opportunity to play
tennis as ‘in one place there were these beautiful tennis courts,
green with arc lights for night playing.’ It was known that he had
brought his tennis racquet with him aboard USS
and this created some interest amongst the crew and other personnel.
As Warren explained ‘I was full of youthful optimism, inexperience
and bravado. When we stopped there I asked if anyone played tennis.’
It transpired that there were two airmen on the island, who were keen
players, and soon potential matches between them and Warren generated
much excitement, especially amongst those fancying a bet on the

Luckily for Warren
the airman were away on a bombing mission, as he rapidly discovered
that one of them had played in the pre-war American Davis Cup team,
and the other was pretty good as well. It was some relief when after
only one night his ship was ordered to set sail. ‘We never did have
that game of tennis and I learnt to be more modest and cautious and I
never mentioned tennis again.’

Sometimes the USS

was required to sail in convoy and this was often challenging for the
aged, slow vessel. Warren recounted that in February 1943 as the
Japanese were withdrawing from Guadalcanal we formed part of a convoy
when the threat of Japanese submarines was considered serious. ‘We
simply could not keep up with the rest of a convoy and kept receiving
messages ‘‘to maintain speed,’’ but with our engines at full
speed we would blow up black smoke, so the message would come over
the radio ‘‘stop making smoke’’ as this could have alerted
Japanese submarines and/or aircraft.’ The rigmarole went on for
several days with ‘continuous messages of ‘‘maintain speed’’
and ‘‘stop making smoke’’ and so on but eventually we made

Another time USS

was approaching Manilla in the Philippines where the harbour was
strewn with sunken ships and other wreckage from the war. They
received the message ‘AP 41 do you have radar?’ Warren recalled
that they replied ‘yes’ even though their radar equipment was
still waiting to be unpacked in the hold. As he later said ‘the
answer was technically correct, and this was typical of the kind of
thing that went on in a war situation.’

Similarly, during
one mid-watch he spotted lights in the distance and had the signalman
send a message enquiring about the weather. This was not authorised
and an answer came back demanding ‘’name, rank and commanding
officer?’’ Warren later confessed ‘I thought I had put my foot
in it again’ but he escaped trouble by ‘proposing we didn’t
answer and turning off our top lights so it looked like we had gone
behind a cloud.’

Once, USS

was confronted by a cruiser from the Royal Australian Navy, which had
her guns trained on the smaller vessel. This was because every day a
code for the day was issued on the bridge and used by all friendly
ships. Somehow the code had not been changed and consequently the
wrong answer was given when challenged. As Warren remarked this was
yet another example in war of where ‘incidents happen from mistakes
or due to young idiots.’

As a sailor Warren
had also to contend with the vagaries of the weather at sea.
Sometimes the storms were so severe in the South Pacific that ships
took ‘water over the top i.e. above the level of the bridge.’ He
remembers one convoy where this happened and several ships were lost.
In such a situation other vessels such as USS

had to put out their booms in order to try and pick up survivors. For
Warren this represented one of the more harrowing aspects of his
naval service, and he noted that ‘the booms could often also be
deployed to pick up troops during amphibious warfare.’

Warren ended his
war in the Philippines, servicing the various islands there by
delivering troops, supplies and post. He was often aware of the
gunfire from where the fighting occurred and thankful that he did not
have to participate in any proposed invasion of Japan. Even so, he
remembered assembling as part of a great armada in the summer of 1945
near Tacloban before the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. There
seemed to be thousands of Allies ships, ‘big ones aircraft
carriers, battleships, little ones like mine and LSTs [Landing Ship
Tanks].’ Subsequently, he vividly remembered spotting some of the
Japanese aircraft flying over to commence the signing of the

With hostilities
over USS

remained in the Philippines, before eventually sailing back to United
States in 1946, and Warren continued to serve aboard her until she
was decommissioned. The crew were eligible for the American Defence
Service Medal (with Fleet clasp); American Campaign Medal;
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific
Campaign Medal; World War Two Victory Medal; and Philippines
Liberation Medal.

At San Diego the
crew were granted a couple of days leave. Warren’s father drove
down from Passadena to meet him and it was ‘a shock travelling by
car at speed after the slowness of the ship.’ Eventually they were
ordered to head for Baltimore on the East Coast via the Panama Canal
and prepare for decommissioning. This entailed negotiating an area
known to sailors as ‘Typhoon Alley’ and they stopped in North
Carolina on route. This left Warren as a young officer in an awkward
situation, as the captain and the navigator had both left the ship to
receive orders and take sightings that would prevent the ship from
running aground.

An announcement
came over the blinker ‘‘All ships make way to ocean as quick as
possible or otherwise provide for typhoon.’’ I had no more clue
how I was going to get that ship down river. I couldn’t take
sightings as that wasn’t my area. So I got onto the chief engineer
on the intercom. ‘’We’ve got to do something there’s a
typhoon coming’’ and I said ‘‘Chief can you get me engine
power so I can drop the anchor and sail against it so we don’t get
blown ashore.’’

They deployed their
second anchor in the end to prevent the ship from running ashore.
This incurred the wrath of the captain when he returned to the ship
because as she was old it took a long time to disentangle the
anchors. However, Warren was at a loss to know what else he could
have done in an effort to keep the ship safe during the stormy

The decommissioning
of USS

during spring 1946 effectively marked an end to Warren’s naval
service. However, he remained on the reserve officers list and
counted himself fortunate not to be recalled when the Korean War
broke out in June 1950, as happened to some of his contemporaries.

Like many young men
and women of his generation Warren was moved by his wartime
experiences and had matured both mentally and physically during his
service. It had by his own admission been a learning experience, and
as he commented in his case supported the old adage that ‘you send
a troublesome youngster to the military and it makes a man of him.’
The USN also helped give him confidence in dealing with people and at
a relatively young age he appreciated how to handle responsibility.

Yet, simultaneously
his naval experience pushed him towards pacifism and ultimately led
him to join The Society of Friends (Quakers). He was deeply affected
by the discrimination he witnessed against black servicemen, and the
plight of the many islanders he had encountered in the South-West
Pacific who endured harsh conditions and poverty. This was not helped
by the war and he recalled sometimes having to transport villagers
and their animals aboard USS

so that they remained out of the way of the American military when
new bases needed to be established.

His war experiences
also ignited his academic interests, particularly concerning ‘people
who are discriminated against around the world’ and ‘how
societies run themselves.’ After the war he fondly remembered his
strong willed mother encouraging him to pursue the path of
self-improvement, and announcing to him that ‘my life was mine to
lead and react, to humanely.’

Eventually he
obtained a doctorate and became an economic historian, initially
specialising as a researcher in agricultural/rural sociology. In the
late 1940s Warren worked with Birdseye, the frozen food manufacturer,
an experience that taught him a great deal about marketing,
particularly when as part of his research he had to visit the San
Francisco farmer’s market.

Later his research
took him to Georgia where he became especially interested in labour
conditions, often drawing upon documents from English history. By the
1950s he was teaching ‘Labour Management’ in Texas. As an
academic and a Quaker during the post-war period he also became
concerned with assisting black communities in California organise for
self-help after the massive decline in ship building in that state.
As he observed during the war it really had been a case of ‘a ship
a day’ at the ship yards there. However, post 1945 there was simply
not the need for that sort of output and large numbers of workers
were laid off, many of whom were blacks who had been moved from the
South to work there during the war.

He went on to
obtained a fellowship from the Ford Foundation at John Hopkins
University, which enabled him to research developing countries, and
he became especially interested in the Middle East despite finding
Arabic ‘a hellish language to learn.’ This led him to study land
reform in Iraq for three years, before working as the head of the
economic unit for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRA) in the
Middle East. The latter role entailed ‘visits to some of the main
refugee camps, trying to organise reparations for people who had lost
land to Israel, and relocate people where they could do agriculture
etc.’ His work also saw him travel through Jordan, Iran, Turkey and
Iraq which made him especially sad to observe the situation unfolding
in that region during 2015.

Warren spent a
further period teaching in Texas, where ‘you had to be careful
talking to students about migrant labour and not criticise the
official position. There followed a period at Harvard where he had a
fellowship in labour economics and law relationships. By that time
(1960s) with his first wife, an Englishwoman he had a young daughter
and son. With support from Harvard he went on to study land reform in
India, although this was largely thwarted by war between India and

Instead he ended up
doing a lot of work for the US Diplomatic Service, particularly
helping to organise aid shipments to India. In India he worked
alongside the influential economic thinker E. F. Schumacher and this
eventually brought him to Britain, where he later remarried.

In the 1980s he had
a change of tack when his son was looking to expand his London based
furniture business away from the capital. Warren ended up
establishing an outlet in Newcastle upon Tyne so as to take advantage
of the enterprise zones being set up by the then Conservative
government under Margaret Thatcher. This eventually led him to retire
to the North East, where at 91 he continues to be active with the
Northern Refugee Service and can often be seen around the village
where he lives with his faithful dog Noah. Warren remains proud of
his naval service, despite by his own admission being something of a
naval misfit. He particularly relished the opportunity it afforded
him to go on and lead his own life, and as his mother had advised
‘react to it humanely.’


Oral history:

Recording of Dr.
Warrren Adams’s wartime memories made by Dr. James Goulty, 11
February 2015


Goodenough, Simon
Great Land, Sea and Air Battles of World War Two (Peerage Books,
London, 1988)

Mueller, Joseph N.
Guadalcanal 1942: The Marines Strike Back (Osprey Publishing Ltd,
London, 1992)

Welsh, Douglas The
USA in World War Two: The Pacific Theatre (Bison Books Ltd, London,

Willmott, H. P.
Pearl Harbor (Bison Books Ltd, London, 1981)


Capt. Donald
Macintyre, Guadalcanal: The Sea Battles’ in Purnell’s History of
the Second World War Vol. 3 No. 11, pp. 1188-1195

Charles Roetter,
‘Guadalcanal: The Land Battles’ in Purnell’s History of the
Second World War Vol. 3 No. 11, pp. 1177-1186

Internet resources:

Alistair G. S.
Phillip ‘Historical Perspectives: Perinatal Profile: Forrest Hood
Adams, MD: Pediatric Polymath’ at neoreviewsaappublications.org

Nav Source Online
Ship Archive: (USS Stratford AP-41)

USS Stratford AP-41 entries on Wikipedia

The Second World War Through Soldiers’ Eyes is available to order now from Pen and Sword.