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4.8 out of 5 stars36
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 10 April 2012
An absorbing read, The War on Our doorstep is a collection of oral histories expertly grouped together. Each paragraph is a different voice from the East End, they are funny, touching and sobering by turns. As they are all collected as oral stories they are very fresh, you really do feel spoken to by each person as they remember their past. There are tales of eighteen to a house and a shared lavatory in the yard, of having to buy food by the tin cup, of the amazing freedom for children to play and the very tough times they went through; leaving school too young and starting work too early. There are bombs and dances, Zepplins and Mosley, dockers and immigrants, the Bethnal Green Tube disaster, pawn shops and the black market. This is gripping, some of the storytellers appear several times and following their lives against the backdrop of London life I felt I got to know them. This isn't just tales of wartime terror as the title might suggest but real lives, funny and complicated and I'll be buying it for about five people I know who will love it.
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on 22 May 2012
This is a fantastic read, full of fascinating and unexpected detail. Illuminating dozens of subjects ranging from alcohol to Zeppelins via bedbugs and pawnshops, the period covered is from the beginning of the 1900s to the mid 1950s. Each chapter starts with a brief summary of the topic followed by extracts from the East Enders themselves. Dockers and costermongers, typists, nurses, delivery boys and policemen - all these and more have their distinctive voices in this book. The resulting cast of characters tell us very directly what it felt like to live in the East End when the bombs began to fall.

I really enjoyed reading about the dairies where customers demanded milk from a specific named cow, about Chinese gambling dens, Hugenot weavers and the tight knit Jewish communities. There's so much in this book - the Cable Street riots, the Bethnal Green tube disaster - I could go on and on, but Harriet Salisbury and the voices she has brought to us do it so much more eloquently. A pleasure to read.
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on 28 May 2012
Compelling. Fascinating. Shocking. Harriet Salisbury and the Museum of London are to be congratulated for bringing such diverse voices to a wider public via 'The War on Our Doorstep'. It's as much a page-turner as any novel, and by the end I felt I had really come to know some of the recurring contributors in the way that you come to care about certain fictional characters. But you can never forget that these stories are true, and the daily crises that so many experienced from WW1 up to the 1950s made an indelible impact on their lives. I was particularly struck by the survival of so many elements of Victorian life well into the 20th century, such as the muffin man, watercress sellers and communal cooking in the local baker's oven. What would these East Enders have made of the latest incarnation of their neighbourhood, in the shape of the Olympic Park?
Highly recommended to anyone interested in London, 20th-century Britain, social history and a great, absorbing read.
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on 4 August 2012
The War on Our Doorstep is a history of the East End of London from the start of the 20th century to the late 1950s.
The author writes "the question that fascinated me was not what happened? but who did it happen to?" and this book, a collection of oral testimonies, gives a vivid account of those indomitable people.
The book records their stories of growing up, working and living in the East End. The interviewees saw and experienced poverty, discrimination, exploitative working practices, aerial bombardments in two World Wars, fragmentation of neighbourhoods, the birth of trades' unions and the death of industries and, ultimately, of the East End that they knew.
The section covering home life and healthcare prior to the NHS is particularly interesting. Medical officers recruiting for WW1 found that 37.4% of Londoners had either a physical disability or a weakness due to past disease; hardly surprising since in the early 20th century more than a million people in the East End were living in crowded buildings often in extreme poverty. Home for a typical family would be one or two rooms of a shared house with a cooker on the landing and a shared outside toilet and cold tap.
Childhood mortality was high as children were especially vulnerable to the effects of cold, dirt, pollution and malnutrition. For most families a visit from the doctor was unaffordable.
Parasites were inevitable; bed bugs, fleas and lice were a part of daily life. When rooms needed cleansing a highly toxic sulphur candle would be burned. The practice of sitting out in the street on a warm summer evening chatting with the neighbours was in part to avoid the bed bugs indoors.
Large families remained the norm and there was very little publically accessible information about family planning. The disinfectant Lysol was discretely advertised as a post coital contraception. Abortion was illegal but widely practiced. Condoms were available as was the Dutch cap but children were kept surprisingly ignorant about the facts of life until they started work and entered the adult world; typically aged around fourteen.
Despite the many hardships the East Enders remained cheerful and stoical with a great capacity to enjoy life even during the horrors of the Blitz. Their stories are moving, eyeopening and sometimes very funny and I recommend this book.
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on 13 June 2013
My late grandparents came from the east end so this book was of great interest to me.I well remember being taken to the family dentist in the east end and seeing more and more bomb sites as we got nearer the dentist.I remember that his surgery was in a building next to a bomb damaged building.This book contains extracts from oral histories given to the museum.At the moment there are still people about us who can remember the blitz,including my mother.Soon alas this will slip into history.So we all need to remember what happened.
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on 16 July 2012
I was born in 1939, so my first memories involve many of the things referred to in this book. Like the shelter in our living room, the fact that Dad was away, food rationing, bombs falling on the nearby railyard and the local docks. The book is a compelling read, brings many incidents to mind and should be a 'must read' for some of today's spoilt youngsters.
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on 7 February 2013
The book is very interesting as it provides realistic day-to-day account of the lives of ordinary people in the East End of London through the first half of the 20th century. It is basically a collection of interview snippets organised by the relevant topics, which, unfortunately lacks in continuity and becomes hard to read and get into after a while. However, for a London commuter read it makes a perfect read! Definitely recommended if you can relate to the area and hearing significant events being described by ordinary people who just happened to be there at the time!
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on 4 December 2012
Good book about the old days in London's East End, and how the Blitz changed everything. Would certainly recommend to anyone who wants to know about life during and after the blitz.
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on 3 February 2013
An evocative description of a lost era and place, in the words of the people who were there. Harriet Salisbury has done a wonderful job of organising these first person accounts of life in the East End before, during and after WW2 and adding just the right amount of historical, political and economic context to complete the picture.
It's a fascinating reminder at this time of "economic hardship" of just how hard times were for many people just a couple of generations back.
I have also read all of Jennifer Worth's books (Call the Midwife, etc.), which cover the same population and part of the same period and I recommend this book if you're captivated by those stories.
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on 9 June 2012
A reviting account of happiness, chaos and tragedy. The author has captured all aspects of life in the East End. Purchased for my mother who remembers the area during the War. A good nostalgic read.
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