This is a follow-up to Weird War Two which I reviewed for the Whispering Stories Book Blog back in 2016. I enjoyed that, so the authors sent me a copy of this one to see what I made of it.
The short answer is that it is remarkably similar to the first one. I had thought that they might be scraping the bottom of the barrel, having used up all the best stories, but it turns out that besides killing millions of people, destroying many of the great cities of Western Europe, and wreaking economic havoc on an unprecedented scale, World War II provided an almost endless source of unlikely yarns.
There are stories of great heroism, some of which deserve to be better known. The defiance of those Jews who fled to the woods and raised guerrilla forces against the Nazis is not remembered as it should be.
There are, inevitably, stories of animals that fought alongside the troops – the most unlikely being a bear that fought with the Free Poles. More tragically there is the account of how hundreds of thousands of pets were put down, ostensibly to aid the British war effort.
There are one or two stories that I have never heard before, but which ring horribly true. The fact that Jesse Owens was not insulted by Hitler, but was refused a place at the White House reception for victors is quite shocking. Some other stories, though, are definitely not true. I really want to believe that Polish cavalry charged a German armoured column, but I have met historians who have traced this one down to the misreporting of an incident witnessed by an Italian newspaper correspondent. It should be true, but sadly it isn’t.
There are stories of criminals sheltering in the London blackout and German frauleins being taught how to make an SS husband happy (and no, sex was very definitely not on the curriculum). Anything that is even loosely associated with the war seems to be grist for the authors’ mill.
As with the first book, this one adopts a remorseless “factoid” approach that is well suited to the interests of the Internet generation. It’s designed to be dipped in and out of, but it’s easy to read much more at a time than you meant to.
There are occasional references to sources that have more information, but generally there is an absence of footnotes and you have to take much of what you read on trust. This isn’t a “serious” book about the war but rather, like the BBC, something that seeks to educate, inform, and entertain at the same time. On the whole I think it does this rather well.