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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Universal Soldier

The military history book that has influenced me most is probably The Universal Soldier: Fourteen Studies in Campaign Life A.D. 43-1944. Can someone please explain to me why this book has not been reprinted since 1971?

I vividly remember in which second hand book shop in Stockholm I found my copy, I even seem to recall the moment when I found it. This is one of those books that you can return to, want to return to. And actually do.

British paratroopers in Oosterbeek, the Netherlands. This is a UK government photo now in the public domain. A part of this image, the para furthest to the left, was one of the images in "The Universal Soldier" that made such a strong impression on me.

It cost me 60 Swedish Crowns - one of the best investments I have ever made. Which year I bought it? Not sure, perhaps 1984? I was then 15 or 16 years old.

The book was edited by Martin Windrow and Frederick Wilkinson. Their work together with that of more than a dozen specialists together with magnificent colour plates by Gerald Embleton = timeless quality.

What immediately attracted me was the chapter about the British WWII airborne soldier, "Albert Arthur Fisher", and the chapter about the German WWII infantryman "Jurgen Stempel". Both strictly speaking fictional men but at the same time composite personalities, with characters and personal backgrounds borrowed from several real soldiers.

I was already hooked on WWII. But then, after having read the two WWII chapters several times I began to take in the Roman Caius Largennius and the others.

And what a brilliant introduction. Let me end with a quote from it: "The soldier is shaped far more by the nature of the society which bears him than by the experience of soldiering itself". So true, I have come to believe.

I do hope you too find a copy of The Universal Soldier. If not in a second hand book store then in a library. And someday someone must surely reprint it.


  1. The paratrooper wearing the beret (second from right) is my father Christpher George Wynn. He remembers almost shooting the photographer by mistake.

  2. Ha!, like you I found this book around the same time, and have just bought a second-hand copy. Originally I found it in my local library, and renewed it and renewed it and... It really is a great piece of military history, or just plain history, bringing the periods covered, literally, to life, it contributed to a life-long interest in history from the 'common man's' point of view. The beautiful illustrations also encouraged me to draw. I must admit, this book also played a part in me deciding not to have a career in the military (my father fought in the war too), I remember being particlarly moved by the story of the British Paratrooper at Arnhem- The real cost of war, the waste, the squalor and the sorrow that acted as a counter-point to all my sanitised, glorifying and heroic Airfix kits and war comics. An underated book by any standards! Cheers!

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