First-hand accounts of WWII for autumn

The autumn will see a clutch of titles offering first-hand accounts of the Second World War. Simon & Schuster is publishing a highly controversial German bestseller, Soldaten, based on transcripts of bugged conversations between German soldiers at prisoner of war camps in Britain during the Second World War; meanwhile, Profile and Little, Brown are both bringing out volumes of wartime diaries.

S&S’ Soldaten by historian Sonke Neitzel and sociologist and social psychologist Harald Welzer, which is being published under its original German title, will be out on 25th September as a £20 hardback, with simultaneous release by Knopf in the US.

Previously published in Germany by Fischer, the book gives an insight into the minds of soldiers through their private conversations, secretly recorded in the POW camps in the hope that military secrets would be revealed. The transcripts reveal ordinary soldiers discussing wartime atrocities they had committed—highly controversial in Germany, where the conventional history had been that only the elite SS soldiers committed such crimes.

S&S non-fiction editorial director Mike Jones said: “For a historian and a psychologist, this was a gold mine—surely the next best thing to being with the soldiers on the battlefield. It takes us to the heart of what it was like to be a soldier in the Second World War, and it opens our eyes to the experience of a soldier more generally, and the psychology of war.” Jones said the market for Second World War books was “fantastically healthy anyway, and this comes at it from a totally different angle. It really will capture everyone’s interest.”

Meanwhile, Little, Brown has also unearthed new material, publishing These Wonderful Rumours: A Young Schoolteacher’s Wartime Diaries by May Smith, depicting life on the home front during the Second World War, through the never-before-published diaries of Smith, a teacher in a village near Derby. It will be released as a £14.99 hb on 1st November.

Profile Books is releasing an omnibus edition of Nella Last’s diaries, bringing together Nella Last’s War, Nella Last’s Peace and Nella Last in the 1950s as a single volume, adding in new material too. It will publish The Diaries of Nella Last: Writing in War and Peace on 27th September as a £12.99 tpb.

Editor Lisa Owens said almost all of the new material was taken from Last’s wartime diaries, with Last writing as part of the Mass Observation social research project, which set out to record everyday life in Britain. Owens said the appeal of these wartime accounts lay in the opportunity they give of “seeing ourselves in the recent past”, adding: “With the recession, financially there is a parallel there too with the wartime experience of making do.”