Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War Hardcover – 1 May 2014
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"Zeppelin Nights is social history at its best… White creates a vivid picture of a city changed for ever by war" (Robbie Millen The Times)
"Jerry White's name on a title page is a guarantee of a lively, compassionate book full of striking incidents and memorable images… This is a fast-paced social history that never stumbles… A well-orchestrated polyphony of voices that brings history alive" (Richard Davenport-Hines Guardian)
"White delivers in brilliant time-eclipsing detail an evolving and often deeply moving portrait of a city that became gradually squeezed to its limits" (Juliet Nicolson Sunday Telegraph)
"Jerry White is masterful at mixing hard facts and statistics with telling anecdotes" (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)
"A superbly detailed account… Professor White has written a fine social history that portrays London as a teeming nerve centre of the Allied war effort" (Ian Thomson Financial Times)
A unique look at London during the First World War, seen through the eyes of the people who lived there by an acclaimed writer who ‘is to London as Boswell is to Johnson’
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Top Customer Reviews
The book moves chronologically, but also through chapters that are broken down in general ways into subjects or themes – for instance, the idea of women in the workforce, of banning “indecent” entertainments for the duration, of the breakdown or interruption to services to homeowners and businesses, food shortages, coping with the harrowing effect of zeppelin raids or threats of invasion, managing without the menfolk at home; so many things that had to be dealt with on a daily basis that are hard to imagine from our distance now.
As with the author’s other books, this is a lively mixture of fact and anecdote; interesting, enlightening and entertaining all at once. It is a book I felt best read in chunks – one chapter at a time, and a bit of time to digest the dense amount of information in each chapter before moving on to the next. Wonderful, and highly recommended.
The Great War is best looked at in smaller, more manageable portions than in its entirety. In examining London and the part its citizens played in the war effort, Jerry White has captured how most Britons carried on during the war. London was a microcosm of English society at large. It was an incredibly cosmopolitan city; immigrants from all over Europe and the British colonies made the population very diverse. In particular, Germans and Austrians were over-employed in the restaurants and hotels. When war was declared in August, 1914, those German and Austrian residents - called "aliens" - were sent back to their native countries and the service industries suffered. Restaurants and hotels lost their staffs. This was just one way that residents and businesses began to "make do". Not only were service industries affected by the "aliens" leaving, businesses lost British male employees who had signed up for military service. Houses lost staff when former ladies maids went off to do "war work". Women began taking the places in factories, stores, and transportation, which caused problems when these same men returned home in 1918 and 1919.
But how many Londoners who had marched gaily off to war in 1914 actually returned at war's end? How any soldiers were either killed or badly injured?Read more ›
White explores the impact of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) on Londoners, with highly amusing anecdotes such as the investigation into ‘Tippling Among Women.’ Morally lax theatres were also the bane of the establishment: the Lord Chamberlain was charged by the King himself to investigate a picture of a scantily-clad music hall performer in an illustrated paper.
Women came under further attack due to their perceived loose sexual conduct. Arthur Conan-Doyle described the city as ‘harlot-haunted’, a view not shared by Sylvia Pankhurst. Pankhurst’s account of the sights she witnessed reads far more credibly and charitably. Dancing was of course condemned too, as ‘enjoying the war’. Interestingly, the first female police officers began to appear on the streets at time.
While these aspects of social history are absorbing as well as at times highly entertaining, White also unflinchingly explores the harshest realities of the war. London with its many hospitals treated thousands of injured, maimed and disfigured men who arrived in daily waves. Children heard the names of the dead at their school assemblies and lists appeared in every town hall.
And of course, it wasn’t just soldiers. Civilians also died in the terrible Zeppelin incendiary raids. On 31 May 1915, Elsie Leggatt, not even four, was the first to lose her life. Her sister May died from her burns a few days later.
No wonder Londoners sought consolation where they could. Recommended.
Note: I received a free review copy of this book via the Historical Novel Society. This review (or an edited version) has appeared in the Historical Novels Review. My review is my independent opinion.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very interesting social history of London and the war timesPublished 11 months ago by Christopher J Tillson
This book makes an important contribution to understanding the home front during the First World War. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Anonymous
Very well researched and a fascinating read. I have discovered so much about the effects of The First World War on London and found myself continually sharing the facts with my... Read morePublished 16 months ago by YoungAndy
I have read many many books on this subject in the last 50 odd years, this is decidedly an average onePublished 22 months ago by Joppaboy
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