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An ocean of war stories

Those lucky enough to have Sky as their TV provider are in for the highlight of the year next month when the greatly anticipated The Pacific is screened on Movies.

From the team that brought you probably the finest World War II drama ever, Band of Brothers -- though admittedly it is more of a man's choice -- Spielberg and Hanks again collaborated on this €145m epic which follows the horrors of the war in the Pacific through events that befall three young American marines.

The material for Band of Brothers was inspired by a book by American historian Stephen Ambrose who came in for some criticism from some D-Day veterans for inaccuracies and for portraying the soldiers as mere 'grunts'. The author was in fact dogged by plagiarism claims throughout out his career, though he was still one of America's bestselling historical writers. He died in 2002.

Perhaps to avoid controversy, the makers of The Pacific chose books written by veterans for source material, and, for those who wish to avoid the graphic scenes, you could reach for the books, two of which will become available in new editions later this month.

Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie (Bantam) follows the unfolding of the war in the Pacific from the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1942 to training of recruits at Parris Island and the bitter battles themselves. Nothing is glamorous, but Leckie, who went on to become a journalist and write over 40 books on American war history, is a master story teller. He died in 2001.

The partner book for the series is With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge (Presidio Press), written by the author from notes he kept in a pocket-sized bible he had with him throughout the war. In his own words, this book is "brutish and primitive" in the hatred both sides showed for each other. But it stands as one of the all-time masterpieces of combat writing. Unlike Leckie, Sledge followed the more peaceful pursuit of botany as a career following the war, before his death in 2001.

The third book used as a source for the series is Iwo Jima: Red Blood, Black Sand -- Pacific Apocalypse by Charles Tatum, but this is still out of print.