VI: Reference Works

Only four titles under such a general heading? Again, these are the books I read all the way through, usually taking notes. Beyond those main sources, there were about another sixty books that I referred to from time to time, without sitting down and reading them. But all four of the following titles became special in different ways.

60. Over There written by U.S. War Dept.; edited by John R. Pinfold.

One of the greatest pleasures of literary research is the accidental or unexpected discovery. I came across this modest little pamphlet in the bookshop at Duxford Air Museum in Cambridgeshire, during a visit to have a close look at the Lancaster on display there.

In 1942, thousands of U.S. servicemen were being shipped to Britain in readiness for the invasion of France. As each man left the U.S. he was given a copy of this pamphlet to prepare him for what he was going to find on arrival in Britain. Many of the GIs came from rural areas of the U.S. and few had even left their own state, let alone travelled to a foreign country. The two years of friendly occupation by American forces were to cause one of the most important social upheavals this country has ever known, but that’s another story.

From a modern perspective, the pamphlet represents a snapshot of Britain as she was perceived some sixty years ago. It has that candid, objective quality of a benign attempt to get to grips with different people, customs, currency, outlook and so on, a classic example of ‘how others see us’. It contains advice on how the men should behave when out and about, how to order drinks or meals, how to treat British women, how to avoid conflict with British troops, what assumptions they should not make about British life based on wartime conditions. It is in turn surprising, amusing, revealing and often unexpectedly moving. This represents one side of Churchill’s ‘grand alliance’, summed up in 16 extraordinary pages.

61. The Battle for History by John Keegan (1995, Hutchinson; first edition)

This is a book about books: a summary of the best and most useful books about WW2, as seen by the man who is presently the best military historian in Britain. Keegan confirmed my view of several of the books I had already worked with, and put me on to several more. His sense of scale and perspective of wars in general, and WW2 in particular, shows on every page.

However, I would add that as a reference work the book itself is a bit of a mess, typical of the attempts by modern publishers to save a few bob on non-fiction. Although each book mentioned is referenced to the bibliography at the back, the bibliography itself is in chapter order. So, for instance, on page 57 of the chapter Keegan calls ‘Biographies’ (identified in the running head on each page) there is a reference to Desmond Young’s book Rommel, with a superscripted 11 against it. Using the bibliography you immediately discover that you need to know what chapter number it appears in, not the name of the chapter. You have to look back to the Contents page to discover that ‘Biographies’ is Chapter 3. The bibliography duly notes the book under Chapter 3, note 11. But the bibliography supplies little extra information from what you have already found in the text: Young’s book was published in London in 1950. Nothing about publisher, edition or recent reissues. Furthermore, there’s no index, so that if at some later time you are for instance interested in finding out what Keegan has to say about a specific title, the only way of locating it is to search through the chapter-order bibliography in the hope of finding it somewhere. Even if you do, there is no cross-reference back to the page-number on which it appears. Your only hope is to trace the chapter, then read it.

62. War 1939: Dealing with Adolf Hitler.

63. The Judgement of Nuremberg by The Stationery Office (1999; first edition thus)

Both of these titles appear in the recent ‘Uncovered Editions’ imprint. I can do no better than quote the short preface that appears in each book: ‘Uncovered Editions are historic official papers which have not previously been available in popular form. The series has been created directly from the archives of The Stationery Office in London, and the books have been chosen for the quality of their story telling. Some subjects are familiar, but others are less well known. Each is a moment of history.’

(Other titles in the series deal with the loss of the Titanic, the British invasion of Tibet in 1904, the Christine Keeler affair, the murders at 10 Rillington Place, and many more. One of my favourites is called The Strange Story of Adolph Beck, a series of trial papers concerning a confidence trickster and an astonishing case of mistaken identity. However, none of these books has anything to do with my researches for my new novel.)

The first of the two titles mentioned here consists mostly of Foreign Office papers dealing with the period between the Munich Agreement and the outbreak of war a year later. It also includes much German material, including the texts of several of Hitler’s pre-war speeches. The second includes transcripts of the proceedings against the Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg in 1945-1946, including the judgements. The books give you the feeling of having come across a large file of old papers, cleaned up but not tidied up, if you see what I mean, a treasure trove of raw information.

These books both have cover photographs of the Nazi leaders, one taken before the war, the other after it. Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, is visible on both books. Which brings me neatly to my final category of research.