Tynemouth & Wallsend at War 1939-45; From Normandy to Auschwitz; In Hitler’s Shadow: Post-War Germany and the Girls of the BDM; Escaping Has Ceased to Be a Sport: A Soldier’s Memoir of Captivity and Escape in Italy and Germany

Written by Craig Armstrong Frank Unwin Paul le Goupil Tim Heath
Review by Edward James

These four books published together by Pen & Sword explore different aspects of WW2, using original documents.

Two of them are personal memoirs. Frank Unwin is a 97-year-old British veteran who was a POW in Italy and Germany. Paul le Goupil is a 95-year-old veteran of the French Resistance who was imprisoned in France and Germany. Both were captives at the same time (1942-45), ended the war in the same part of Germany and survived the infamous Death Marches of March-April 1945.

Despite the title of his book, Unwin clearly enjoyed escaping. Most of the book is taken up with the five months he spent on the run in the peasant villages of Tuscany, a life of hard work, pretty girls and plentiful Chianti, lived at the pace of an ox cart. Le Goupil had a far harder time with no escapes, although again the title of the book is misleading; the author spent only two weeks in Auschwitz at the start of his time in Germany and speculates that his convoy of prisoners was sent there by mistake, before being re-routed to Buchenwald.

Tim Heath’s book is the sequel to Hitler’s Girls – Doves among Eagles, based on interviews with about forty members of the BDM, the female wing of the Hitler Youth. The material in In Hitler’s Shadow was gathered while researching the earlier book but did not fit the theme. Rather than waste it, he has given it to us in a second book. The result lacks a clear theme but nevertheless contains a set of interesting and sometimes horrifying accounts of how these women fared in the dying days of the Reich and in post-war Germany. There is an interesting chapter on the Lebensborn experiment which attempted to breed super-Aryans by selecting good-looking blondes from the BDM to be impregnated by chosen men of the SS.

Armstrong’s book is different from the others, containing no personal testimonies. It is a straightforward chronological account of the war as it affected two communities in NE England. Both are shipbuilding towns and were bombed heavily in 1940-41. The material is drawn mostly from local newspapers, an indiscriminate mix of the tragic, the trivial and the banal, reminding us that the small things of life go on alongside the great events.