In a parallel world where we hadn’t been hit by a pandemic, this week would be all about the celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Back on 8 May 1945, with Victory in Europe and the defeat of Hitler’s Germany declared, Winston Churchill told the nation ‘we may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing’.

It’s an important event to commemorate and may even offer a form of encouragement in a time of lockdown. The Second World War, after all, was the last time that life was upended on a similar scale. Those years of conflict must have felt never-ending. But end they did – as will our present-day situation.

This week I’ve been reading a fascinating new book called A Soldier’s Story, which recounts the Second World War from the viewpoint of a regular solider. The soldier in question is Neville ‘Timber’ Wood, who served as part of the 50th Division. His son, Mike Wood, has pieced together his story through a combination of wartime diaries and interviews with his father before his death in 2015.

As the quote on the jacket from Richard Dannatt says, this is ‘the story of an ordinary soldier, but an extraordinary man.’ Neville joined up as a volunteer in 1939, and served through until October 1945, when he was driving supplies to West Berlin through Russian occupied territory. In between, his division was evacuated from Dunkirk, took part in El Alamein and the North Africa campaign, and was involved in the invasion of Sicily and the D-Day landings, fighting all the way from Normandy to Germany.

A lot of books about the Second World War focus on the bigger picture. It is rarer to describe the experience of a regular soldier: Neville’s story is rarer still in that his story captures the war in its entirety. Mike Wood has done a superb job in bringing this to life – not just the military moments, but also the humour and camaraderie among the troops.

Neville’s own marking of VE Day was in marked contrast to the traditional images of cheering crowds on the streets of London. His company were still out in Germany, helping build bridges over the Rhine and moving equipment from the battlefields into the occupied zones. Rather than celebrating, the mood of the troops was more uncertain: what now? What happens next?

For Neville, it was returning back to his family home in Hull and picking up work at his father’s butcher shop. It was the 1940s equivalent of what is now being called the new normal – the world was both back to how it was and different at the same time.

A Soldier’s Story by Mike Wood is out now.