The British Soldier of the Second World War

ISBN: 978 0 7478 0741 4
Review Date:

Perhaps because the British Army was not the first Allied force to see combat in WW2 (the Chinese Army had been fighting since Jul 1937) nor the first to fight in Europe (Polish Army, since Sep 1939), adding the fact that WW2 marked the dusk of the British Empire and the dawn of the American successor, the British soldier remained a somewhat under-written topic outside of the United Kingdom itself. This was unjust, of course, as through the battles in Norway, France, North Africa, Malaya, Burma, and back onto continental Europe, the British soldier had seen his share of both pride and shame, both victory and defeat, and in all cases a significant role in WW2.

That said, Peter Doyle's The British Soldier of the Second World War was too small to comprehensively address a topic as wide as the British soldier. Nevertheless, he did an excellent job in describing the uniform, the equipment, and the psyche of the WW2-era British soldier despite the book's size limitation. He told the story of the British soldier not only through text but also through a nice collection of photographs; I was not certain of the rarity of some of the photographs included, but I must say that I had not seen many of the them previously.

The author also included many "One Man's War" segments that told stories of individual British soldiers. They were welcome additions to the book as they stressed the focus of the book on the individual soldiers in the British Army during this period. One of such brief biographies was one of Private Leslie Doyle, whose experience in a German prisoner of war camp had been told in another of the author's books, Prisoner of War in Germany. Private Doyle's "One Man's War" entry in this book, like all the others, provided a face to what would be otherwise anonymous British Army.

Private Doyle was one of the many conscripts to the new Militia in 1939. Aged twenty in November, he was drafted into the newly formed army as Hitler was preparing his forces for the onslaught in the west. Joining the 5th Battalion King's Own Royal Regiment, he trained in Lancaster, and was shipped out to France with the rest of his battalion, forming a constituent part of the Territorial 42nd (East Lancastershire) Division. Like other raw troops, he visited the Maginot Line defences farther south, and experienced life in the front line so confidently expected to hold German territorial ambitions....

Despite the small size and the cursory discussion on the topic, the book was still an enjoyable read. I would say that it would serve as a wonderful starting point to learn about the individual British soldier; for those who wished to dive a little bit deeper, however, this title might prove to be a little lacking.

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