Monday, August 8, 2011

#54: Ten Days to D-Day: Citizens and Soldiers on the Eve of the Invasion by David Stafford

Little, Brown and Co., New York: 2003. 377 pages

David Stafford is the director of the Centre for World War Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He weaves a dispirit group of tales together in this text, producing a tapestry of hope, fear and sorrow.  Stafford's text covers not only civilians but also military men (and women) on both sides. It is the covering of the "normal" or "unimportant" that makes this an important text. As is so often the case, the stories of those caught up in history make the best tales.

Stafford is even-handed, paying respect to not only the Allies but also the regular German soldiers. The soldier in question, Walter Schwender, is a 20 year old draftee stationed in France. He spends most of his time before the invasion swimming and eating fruit. He also ogles the local girls, a common practice in both armies. He seems totally harmless.

On the Allied side, Schwender's alter-egos are two people. The first is a Canadian, the second from Boston. Both are in the front lines on D-Day, and the text does an excellent job of displaying their fears, hopes and judgments as the operation approaches. Stafford does take care in covering the well-known folks (Churchill, Eisenhower, De Gaulle, Rommel) but these people are not where the meat of the story is. The meat lies with the ordinary folks, as it often does. De Gaulle and Churchill, in particular, come off as babies in this text. Eisenhower emerges as a level-headed, decent man. This is no surprise to those who know anything about Eisenhower.

The true greatness of this text lies in the stories of the French Resistance leading up to D-Day. Stafford incorporates many first person interviews on that score. The discussion of Garbo (the Allied deception expert) and the Resistance is first rate. Garbo is the star of this text, feeding the German High Command false info all the while being suspected on some level as a double agent. Fascinating stuff, even more so because it is true. I had no idea that the British infiltrated women into France because women were less suspect than men. This text follows the actions of several women, which makes a good story The author does not forget Norway, fake landing place of the second part of the Allied invasion.

If you are interested in World War II, this is an excellent book. If you are interested in the effects of war on "ordinary" people, this is the book for you.

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