Duncan Barrett


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Assistant: Olivia Davies


Duncan Barrett is a writer and editor, specialising in biography and memoir. He grew up in London and studied English at Jesus College, Cambridge. In 2010 he edited the First World War memoirs of pacifist saboteur Ronald Skirth, published as The Reluctant Tommy. He is co-author, with Nuala Calvi, of a trio of Sunday Times Top 10 bestsellers: The Sugar Girls, which was ranked second in the history bestsellers of 2012, GI Brides, which was also a New York Times bestseller in America, and The Girls Who Went to War. His solo titles include Men of Letters: The Post Office Heroes Who Fought the Great War and When The Germans Came: True Stories of Life Under Occupation in the Channel Islands.

Current Publication:

WHEN THE GERMANS CAME: True Stories of Life Under Occupation in the Channel Islands - Simon & Schuster - 14 June 2018

In the summer of 1940, we came perilously close to invations. The Battle of Britain scuppered Hitler's plans to cross the Channel, but we've been haunted by what might have been ever since. What would a British occupation have looked like?

The answer lies closer to home than we might imagine. For five years, the people of Jersey, Guernsey and Sark lived our nightmares as their everyday reality. They watched in horror as their buildings were draped in Swastika flags, their cinemas began showing Nazi propaganda films, and Wehrmacht soldiers goose-stepped down their high streets.

Based on interviews with over a hundred men and women who lived through the occupation of the Channel Islands, this book lifts the lid on life under German rule - and how 70,000 British people survived it. 


'Barrett has vivdly summoned a troubling episode from our national past.' - Mail on Sunday

'An absolutely fascinating account of life under German rule in the Channel Islands... It is an undertold story of an extraordinary time in recent British history.' - Sarah Montague, Today programme presenter

'Uniting first-hand accounts, original interviews and thorough research, this is history at its most compulsively readable.' - Annie Barrows, author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Previous Publications:

Praise for THE GIRLS WHO WENT TO WAR, the Sunday Times Bestseller:

'The pairing of Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi – authors of the bestselling The Sugar Girls and GI Brides – has come up trumps again with this compilation of true stories of women who went to war in WW2. ... This snapshot into their lives will remain long after you turn the final page.' - Family Tree magazine

Praise for THE SUGAR GIRLS, the Sunday Times Bestseller:

'This vivid and richly readable account of women’s lives in and around the Tate & Lyle East London works in the Forties and Fifties is written as popular social history, played for entertainment. If it doesn’t become a TV series to rival Call The Midwife, I’ll take my tea with ten sugars' - Bel Mooney, Daily Mail

Praise for GI BRIDES, the Sunday Times and New York Times Bestseller:

'This is a treasure box of testimonies from a very different world, and one that will soon slip from living memory. Kudos to the authors for capturing these memories for posterity, and in such a readable, touching way' - Londonist






Publication DetailsNotes

Simon & Schuster

In the summer of 1940, Britain stood perilously close to invasion. One by one, the nations of Europe had fallen to the unstoppable German Blitzkrieg, and Hitler's sights were set on the English coast. And yet, following the success of the Battle of Britain, the promised invasion never came. The prospect of German jackboots landing on British soil retreated into the realm of collective nightmares. But the spectre of what might have been is one that has haunted us down the decades, finding expression in counterfactual history and outlandish fictions. What would a British occupation have looked like? The answer lies closer to home than we think, in the experiences of the Channel Islanders - the only British people to bear the full brunt of German Occupation. For five years, our nightmares became their everyday reality. The people of Guernsey, Jersey and Sark got to know the enemy as those on the mainland never could, watching in horror as their towns and villages were suddenly draped in Swastika flags, their cinemas began showing Nazi propaganda films, and Wehrmacht soldiers goose-stepped down their highstreets. Those who resisted the regime, such as the brave men and women who set up underground newspapers or sheltered slave labourers, encountered the full force of Nazi brutality. But in the main, the Channel Islands occupation was a `model' one, a prototype for how the Fuhrer planned to run mainland Britain. As a result, the stories of the islanders are not all misery and terror. Many, in fact are rather funny - tales of plucky individuals trying to get by in almost impossible circumstances, and keeping their spirits up however they could. Unlike their compatriots on the mainland, the islanders had no Blitz to contend with, but they met the thousand other challenges the war brought with a similar indomitable spirit. The story of the Channel Islands during the war is the history that could so nearly have come to pass for the rest of us. Based on interviews with over a hundred islanders who lived through it, this book tells that story from beginning to end, opening the lid on life in Hitler's British Isles.

2015 - 2016


Sunday Times Bestseller --- The personal accounts of three young women who joined up in 1940.
In the summer of 1940, Britain stood alone against Germany. The British Army stood at just over one and a half million men, while the Germans had three times that many, and a population almost twice the size of ours from which to draw new waves of soldiers. Clearly, in the fight against Hitler, manpower alone wasn’t going to be enough.
Eighteen-year-old Jessie Ward defied her mother to join the ATS, Margery Pott signed up for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, and nanny Kathleen Skin the WRNS. They left quiet homes for the rigours of training, the camaraderie of the young women who worked together so closely and to face a war that would change their lives for ever.
Overall, more than half a million women served in the armed forces during the Second World War. This book tells the story of just three of them – one from the Army, one from the Navy and one from the Air Force. But in their stories are reflected the lives of hundreds of thousands of others like them – ordinary girls who went to war, wearing their uniforms with pride.


AA Publishing

When the First World War broke out, the Post Office was the biggest employer in the world, with its own company of volunteer part-time soldiers, The Post Office Rifles. Suddenly catapulted into conflict, ordinary postmen and messenger boys found themselves in the trenches of the Western Front, hoping that their own letters would reach home - and relying on the letters and parcels they received for comfort and much-needed boosts to morale. By the war's end, 1,500 of them had been killed. Using the personal stories, letters and diary entries of the men who joined the Post Office Riffles, this is a moving account of how the war touched the lives of ordinary people - how it changed communities, how women took up men's work, and, of course, the vital role the mail played in winning the war.



Sunday Times & New York Times Bestseller --- The “friendly invasion” of Britain by over a million American G.I.s bewitched a generation of young women deprived of male company during the Second World War. With their exotic accents, smart uniforms, and aura of Hollywood glamour, the G.I.s easily conquered their hearts, leaving British boys fighting abroad green with envy. But for girls like Sylvia, Margaret, Gwendolyn, and even the skeptical Rae, American soldiers offered something even more tantalizing than chocolate, chewing gum, and nylon stockings: an escape route from Blitz-ravaged Britain, an opportunity for a new life in affluent, modern America.
Through the stories of these four women, G.I. Brides illuminates the experiences of war brides who found themselves in a foreign culture thousands of miles away from family and friends, with men they hardly knew. Some struggled with the isolation of life in rural America, or found their soldier less than heroic in civilian life. But most persevered, determined to turn their wartime romance into a lifelong love affair, and prove to those back home that a Hollywood ending of their own was possible.


World All Languages: Collins

Sunday Times Bestseller and Daily Mail Book of the Week ---

In the years leading up to and after the Second World War thousands of women left school at fourteen to work in the bustling factories of London’s East End. Despite long hours, hard and often hazardous work, factory life afforded exciting opportunities for independence, friendship and romance. Of all the factories that lined the docks, it was at Tate and Lyle’s where you could earn the most generous wages and enjoy the best social life, and it was here where The Sugar Girls worked. Through the Blitz and on through the years of rationing The Sugar Girls kept Britain sweet. The work was back-breakingly hard, but Tate & Lyle was more than just a factory, it was a community, a calling, a place of love and support and an uproarious, tribal part of the East End. From young Ethel to love-worn Lillian, irrepressible Gladys to Miss Smith who tries to keep a workforce of flirtatious young men and women on the straight and narrow, this is an evocative, moving story of hunger, hardship and happiness.

Tales of adversity, resilience and youthful high spirits are woven together to provide a moving insight into a lost way of life, as well as a timeless testament to the experience of being young and female.


UK: Macmillan; German: Rowohlt;

In the First World War, Ronald Skirth was an ordinary tommy. His experiences were like those of many others: fighting in the trenches under constant bombardment, seeing all his friends die around him, suffering under a cowardly commanding officer, enduring shell shock and finally, somehow, surviving.
But Skirth’s story is more extraordinary than that. For on the Flanders battlefield he had a moment of epiphany when he came across the dead body of a teenaged German soldier. The boy was just like him. His corpse was bizarrely untouched, and in his hand was a photo of his girlfriend, who looked just like Skirth’s own sweetheart, Ella.

Afterwards Skirth resolved that he would never again help to take a human life. He altered the trajectory of guns so that they fired harmlessly, and embarked on other small acts of sabotage at huge risk to his own life. Under immense pressure from the authorities he suffered breakdowns and attacks of amnesia, but somehow Skirth maintained his campaign of active pacifism, lived out the war, and returned to marry Ella.

Making use of Ronald Skirth’s letters and postcards to Ella, his contemporary journals and the memoir he wrote in his retirement fifty years later, THE RELUCTANT TOMMY is the fascinating story of a man who stuck by his principles in impossible circumstances, and who had the courage to risk being shot as a ‘coward’; an ordinary soldier with a truly remarkable story.


Polity (UK)/Routledge (USA)

The Independent: Book of the Day ---

In a world that has been shrunk by modern communications and transport, Star Trek has maintained the values of western maritime exploration, and the discovery of "Strange New Worlds" in space. This 'Starry Sea' has become a familiar metaphor in the thirty-year history of Star Trek, providing a backdrop to the relentless questioning of human nature.

The progressive politics that underpinned the original programme is still very much a part of Star Trek's overall philosophy. The earlier series of Star Trek shows a faith in science and rationalism, and in a benign, liberal leadership. This 'modern' order is now in decline, as we can see in the introduction of religion, mental illness and fragmented identities in Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

This book addresses these issues in philosophical, literary, historical and cultural contexts, bringing together an unusual combination of authorial expertise. Written to appeal to those who don't know Star Trek from Star Wars, as well as those with the ferociously detailed knowledge of the true Trekker, it explains the ideas and ideals behind this significant cultural phenomenon.

'Star Trek has been subject to a lot of scrutiny by literary and cultural critics ... The bad conscience that many have about serious discussion of popular culture means that Star Trek can still be read simplistically, as a stalking-horse for denouncing the modernity of the American century. The Barretts are more subtle. A television series is a product of a variety of creators and so, inevitably, a rich complex of signs, hints and idealisms. There is no final reading of Star Trek; just an endless journey.' -- The Independent (book of the day)