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This review is from: The People's War: Britain 1939-1945: Britain, 1939-45 (Paperback)
I had a sense, when reading Angus Calder's seminal "The Peoples War", of not just visiting one lost world (that of the home front during the second world war), but also that of the time the book was written in, late 1960's Britain; and not just because of (thankfully rare) sentences such as "For the New Britain rearmament meant a gay boom in aircraft production." The books discussions of the social and economic circumstances of wartime Britain are clearly written in pre-Neo Liberal times, when a mixed economy, a welfare state, and social cohesion were regarded as the norm. One could hardly imagine a writer tackling the vast subject of the home front in quite the same manner as Angus Calder did forty years ago, and his book is none the worse for that. On the contrary therein lies much of it's value in that "The Peoples War" allows the reader a double dose of time travelling: explicitly to the wartime 1940's, and implicitly to the post-war consensus that was still alive when this book was written.
At nearly 600 pages plus footnotes, bibliographical essay and index this book is difficult to pick up, but it is even more difficult to put down. Calder chronicles the home front in Britain, from the phoney war (called "The Bore War" at the time) to the general election which saw a landslide victory for the Labour Party in summer 1945, and reflects on a number of events in-between including the ascendancy of Churchill, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, rationing, evacuation, the mobilization of people and economy for the wartime struggle, the planning for a "peoples" post war Britain that would embrace all classes, and the V-weapon attacks.
Calder makes use of a vast amount of sources including Government records, the archives of Mass Observation whose job it was to gauge the mood of the British throughout the war, newspapers and memoirs. This vast mountain of information is intermixed with revealing and apposite anecdotes, and rendered in a readable prose that is at times melancholy and sad, though just as often wry and funny.
It's heartening that this piece of exemplarily social and political writing is still in print after four decades. It gives the reader a many-dimensioned picture of the effect that the war had on the home front. Additionally it tells the story of how the post-war consensus including education, social security, the National Health Service, nationalisation, etc went through its birth pangs. A good part of British Politics since the mid 1970's has been the story of the rolling back of the gains made during the war and in the immediate post war years, and part of the importance of this book is in its telling the story of how that consensus came about. A well recommended read.