WITNESS TO WAR is an eye-opening retelling of the war experience through the private diaries kept by people from all walks of life and from many countries. The twentieth century's Second World War announced its arrival from a distance, and as early as spring 1938 city-dwellers across Europe expected destruction on an epic scale. Men, women and children, most of whom had never kept a diary before, began to chronicle their own responses to what they knew would be a unique moment in world history. The cast of characters represented in these diaries - more than three hundred in number - ranges from politicians, soldiers and spies to ordinary citizens and housewives, from a London schoolboy watching V-1 doodlebugs from his bedroom window to an interned German refugee robbed and beaten by British troops. Many others are famous, and this collection includes rare material from figures such as Joseph Goebbels, Joyce Grenfell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Evelyn Waugh and Noel Coward. It also contains the insights of many who were close to Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. Most of these diaries involved a degree of danger and secrecy.
In occupied Europe a captured diary could betray friends and relatives to the enemy. Some were downright illegal, such as those kept by soldiers on the front line. More than half a century after the end of the war, these hidden treasures - the voices of the past - are still being unearthed. Many of these accounts languished unread, unpublished and gathering dust in scholarly archives around the world. Richard Aldrich has devoted two decades to sustained research in more than a dozen countries. This is war at first hand described in the most immediate terms, not mediated through the voice of peripheral observers or shaded by fading memory or political allegiances.
Richard J. Aldrich has published extensively on secret service, including Intelligence and the War Against Japan: Britain, America and the Politics of Secret Service. He is currently director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies and Professor of Politics at the University of Nottingham.