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It is, of course, a mixture of both.

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As he did with Ten Days to D-Day , Stafford uses a novelistic approach to create a sense of immediacy around historical events. And so the reader may find it a bit of a challenge at first to keep track of all nine characters. This is less of a problem as the individual situations and personalities become more distinguishable. Happily, Stafford includes an epilogue that brings us up to date with his characters since the war. This is as rare as it is welcome.

Not surprisingly, all of them were deeply marked by their wartime experiences.

Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II

But not all of them necessarily saw it as a turning point in their lives. The history of the Second World War, like any history, is more than the sum of its parts. But Stafford provides us with some pretty important parts in a superbly written account. To subscribe, click here. Little, Brown and Co. Live through a day of hapless carnage as RAF Typhoon bombers sink ships - the Thielbek and converted liner Cap Arcona - full of prisoners of war French, Belgian, Dutch, Poles, Russians being shipped out of Hamburg: 2, die on the Thielbek; 4, are burned or drowned as the huge Cap Arcona goes down.

RAF headquarters knew there were prisoners on those ships, but 'by some oversight, the message was never passed on'. Friendly fire has never seemed more malevolent. As these incidents, and many more like them, form a pattern, you begin to find resonances with echoes for today, not 60 years ago. Take Iraq. When the German armies in Holland surrendered, they were not immediately disarmed or incarcerated.

Instead, by local agreement, they were left intact to keep order on the streets, dealing with Dutch rioters and looters celebrating Nazi defeat.

Any compliant force for law and order was better than none, we reckoned. Tell that to Dick Cheney and Paul Bremer. Why, Churchill even wanted to keep the Wehrmacht together on a broader front for exactly that practical purpose though Eisenhower took no heed. The lesson Baghdad forgot was written in mud, not sand.

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Could you just walk out and leave populations to their fate? That's what we did in the Sudetenland, three million ethnic Germans expelled, to add to the 12 million suddenly driven from their former homelands by Poland and Stalin in the biggest ethnic cleansing 20th-century Europe endured. Pack up and quit - and tragedy lingered behind.

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The legacy of hate was more hate. The collaborators, in France, Holland or Italy, were seized on by mobs and often torn limb from limb. Peace meant retribution as well as rejoicing.

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The endgame was often as brutal a game as war itself. And grisly logic, in the rubble, was German girls selling themselves for a few cigarettes and a bar of chocolate. The last breadwinners left.

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The success of Stafford's method, using ordinary men with ordinary voices and wives, such as Vera Reid back in Stockport with the kids , is to make such testimony still moving and urgent six decades on. The concentration camps ought to be as unforgettable now as they were to the troops who first found them. The stench of 'rotting flesh, faeces and urine' that hung over Belsen should never entirely fade.

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Nor should the woman who greeted one Red Cross worker: 'Me I am only a dog. Once you see that through human eyes as the dark side of continuing humanity, easy pieties and slogans fade away. You know what war was like, is like and will be like again. You see the mistakes and evasions. You look into the depths and shudder.