14 April 2010

The Best Day Of My Life:: Memoirs of an Italian-American who spent World War II as a prisoner of the English

The Best Day of My Life is the memoir of Frank Andreani, an Italian-American who was a victim of circumstance during the Second World War.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1919, Frank returned to his parent's home country when he was a youth. There, the family lost their money, and he ended up having to strike out on his own. Frank experienced harsh employers and a non-benevolent priest, but ultimately found a good job in Rome and settled into a comfortable life with his fiance.

This abruptly ended with his conscription into the Italian Army. Sent to North Africa, Frank fought and was captured at Tobruk, which lead to years in British POW camps in Eygpt, India and Australia.

Available from:
Booksurge Publishing

11 April 2010

World War II Lost Films - New series on the History Channel

World War II Lost Films is a new series, starting tomorrow on the History Channel. Mixing restored colour footage with narrated stories, the series tells the stories of 12 individuals who served with the US forces during the war. Some of these involve readings from diaries and letters, but the real interest for me is the personal accounts from the veterans.

The individuals covered in the series include army nurse June Wandrey, who served from the beginning of the war in North Africa to the liberation of the camps in Germany; Shelby Westbrook, a young African American who became a member of the Tuskegee Airmen; Jimmie Kanaya, the son of Japanese immigrants, who served in the U.S. Army and was imprisoned in Europe; and Jack Werner, a Jewish émigré who escaped from Austria before the war and ended up fighting in the Pacific Theater.

From the preview of the first episode, which includes an interview with Jack Werner, the series looks like it will certainly be worth watching. Werner describes his escape from Austria as the hold of the Nazis increased, and his arrival in the US. He goes on to explain his desire to strike back at the regime, but fate sent him to the Pacific. The episode also features an interesting narrative from Richard Tregaskis, describing his experiences on Guadalcanal. Werner's interview is a mixture of his own words, spoken in person and also by a 'younger' actor (Tregaskis' words are spoken by an actor as he passed away in 1973). The actors providing voices in the series include LL Cool J, Steve Zahn, Ron Livingston, James Kyson Lee, Amy Smart and Rob Lowe.

I look forward to viewing the later episodes, as the mixture of some previously unseen film footage and first hand accounts describing little known (in the UK) perspectives of the war will make a refreshing change from the oft-repeated documentaries on television. But don't expect much coverage of non-US participation in the war - enjoy it for what it is, that is a US series similar to Ken Burns' The War, made for a US audience, which still has plenty to offer to anyone interested in WWII.

See previews from the series on the Sky website and a video on the making of WWII Lost Films.

5 April 2010

With The Old Breed - Eugene Sledge

The inspiration for the forthcoming series The Pacific, Eugene B. Sledge's memoir With The Old Breed has been reissued in paperback by Ebury Press.

In 1944 Sledge landed on the beach at Peleliu in 1944 as a twenty-year-old new recruit to the US Marines. Involved in combat both there and at Okinawa, where ‘the world was a nightmare of flashes, explosions, and snapping bullets’, he witnessed first-hand two of the fiercest and filthiest Pacific battles of the Second World War.

Based on notes Sledge secretly kept hidden in a copy of the Bible, With The Old Breed captures with simplicity and honesty the horrendous conditions he, and his fellow marines, endured in this relentless theatre of war. From the heat and incessant rain, to debilitating tropical diseases and the ubiquitous jungle rot that ate away leather, canvas and flesh, Sledge describes the dehumanising horror of living with ever-present death.

Philosophical and dignified, With The Old Breed also reflects candidly on the struggle to remain human in the face of unthinkable depravity. Sledge’s hatred for the brutality of the Japanese never blinds him to their shared horrible fate of being joined together in death on Pacific beaches, nor prevents him from recognising that his fellow marines sometimes committed similar savagery.

Detailing his own journey from patriotic innocence to battle-scarred veteran, Sledge's memoir is a graphic account of war in the Pacific and a moving reflection on the senselessness of war.

E. B. Sledge was born in Mobile, Alabama. In late 1943 he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and was then sent to the Pacific where he fought at Peleliu and Okinawa. After returning from the war he immediately began working on a book based on the notes he had taken while posted in the Pacific theatre, which became With the Old Breed. Sledge joined the biology faculty of Alabama College, where he taught until his retirement. Sledge died on March 3rd, 2001.
See Wikipedia for his full biography.

Available from:
Ebury Press