on 30 July 2011
This is an exhaustive description of the UK blitz in 1940/41. The author has put together all the best of Ziegler combined with Imperial War museum and Public record office transcripts to produce the most enlightening and passionate survey of this period yet. The focus on the mundane as well as the bravery of the AFS ARP and other fire services is simply breathtaking. It is also a thumping good read. Human, humane and unafraid to confront official incompetence, this is incendiary stuff. Bravo.
on 29 October 2011
Anyone who is familiar with Juliet Gardiner's books `Wartime Britain 1939-1945' and `The Thirties - An Intimate History' will know exactly what to expect from this book, and they will not be disappointed. Again the reader is presented with a well-researched and thorough work, making good use of the first-hand accounts of those who lived through the events covered. It seems insensitive to say that they were the lucky ones but, of course, so many also died. It is a stark fact, given near the end of the book after various accounts are given by survivors of the raids, that not until the autumn of 1942 had the enemy killed more British soldiers than civilians. This statistic, quoted by Ms Gardiner, is just one example of many I could pick to show how this book manages to bring home to the reader, simply and effectively, the true horror that was the Blitz.
There are other books available on the subject, indeed you can read about the blitz in many general books about the Second World War, but I doubt whether a more readably detailed volume has been published about it. Ms Gardiner examines the blitz not just from the angle of how it was experienced in London, but also by giving equal attention to the awful destruction it brought to towns and cities across the country. By so doing she avoids the accusation, thrown at the Ministry Of Information by many residents of these other municipalities at the time, that London was somehow regarded as more important than them in the news releases issued about the raids. The official reasoning was that to give out precise details of location and damage done in other cities would be to assist the enemy in their planning for future raids. Thus, for example, after a devastating raid on Hull, the national press simply reported a raid on `a north-east town' or a `northern coastal town'. Understandably such reporting caused resentment.
We not only hear of the horror experienced in places as diverse as Coventry; Liverpool; Bristol; Birmingham; Plymouth; Clydebank and Belfast, as well as London, (and I apologise now to the places I have missed out); we also hear from the ARP workers and those individuals in the Heavy Rescue Squads who, whilst the fire services were often fighting against the odds to bring many a conflagration under control, were dealing face to face with the awful consequences of such indiscriminate and sustained destruction. Some of the accounts are harrowing. Indeed, the bravery and determination of these rescue workers and firefighters, (many of whom became casualty statistics themselves), shines out, on occasion casting a stark light on the ineffective organisation put together by some local civil defence authorities for dealing with the situation.
The unsatisfactory condition of a good number of the public air raid shelters is revealed. In terms of sanitation and structural soundness many were severely wanting. The government's initial reluctance to condone the use of the London Underground for shelter from the raids is also mentioned, as well as the varying experiences of those who sheltered in their own Anderson or Morrison shelters.
These and other subjects that affected people's experiences and attitudes during the blitz - people incidentally from both ends of the social scale - are comprehensively reported in a book that can only raise admiration in the reader for the poor souls that lived through it, determined not to be beaten, and also for an author who has so informatively written about it.
on 2 April 2011
Until I read this book I used to think I knew a fair amount about the Blitz, - I was wrong. My knowledge was limited to what I had learnt from the "Battle of Britain " film and rumours that abound about the "Blitz Spirit" and sheltering in London's Tube stations.
I had never heard of Mass Observation, a real war-time 'Big Brother' that made regular reports on citizens morale and were not averse to criticising some of the dafter procedures that were in place in the early days. Low gas pressure for cooking, low or no water pressure, - these are things that never surfaced before on my radar.
I had no idea that RAF bombs out-killed (murdered?) civilians by a factor of over 14.5:1 and neither had I any idea of the number of homes destroyed and badly damaged. Who would have thought that the WVS would grow to be a million plus strong by the end of the war, having started out as a few names in one lady's address book? I could go on, but I hope you get the idea!
The title I have chosen for this review is taken from the end of a quote by a Red Cross Nurse who had the job of trying to reassemble body parts after they had been exposed to High Explosive bombs of 50kg and upwards. Many times I felt myself experiencing what was written in front of me. I could taste the brick dust, smell the smoke and feel the fear of the countless heroes who exposed themselves to any and every sort of danger. I think it is humbling to discover what a large proportion of our urban populations (and not just London) had to endure - there were many, many unsung heroes amongst them.
A thoroughly well-researched book that contains several harrowing tales and pulls no punches. In her acknowledgements towards the end of the book, Dr. Gardiner states that the book could not have been written without a lot of help. It is my contention that without her, we would never have had this opportunity to learn about this dreadfully grim period in our country's history. This is definitely a book I shall keep so that I can read and re-read over the years.
on 2 October 2010
This book first interested me, because I lived through those times.(My 11th birthday was 6.9.1939). I was born and lived in Southall,Middlesex, a western suburb of London. We suffered from the bombing during the blitz, but not as much as people from central and east London, as was painfully clear to me when I read this book. During September 1940,a girl that had been in my class was killed with her sister one evening. My memory of her has never faded.
This book covers in detail the immense suffering of so many people in many ways, with the background of society then, and events leading up to the war Evacuation of their children, Londoners taking shelter in underground stations, the immense clearing up each morning after a raid, the marvellous work of rescue workers, fire fighters, medical staff, the personal tragedies every day, couple to anxiety about loved ones serving in the armed services.However the population got on with it with grim determination.
After the air raids faded out in 1941/1942, due to the advent of radar carrying fighter aircraft, and the diversion of Luftwaffe resources to the Russian front, there was a respite,
Unfortunately the raids then took a new form, the V1(doodle-bugs) and V2(rockets).
( One that fell in Southall brought the seiling in on my bed-I wasn't in it at the time!) Mecifully after D day the raids fell away as Eirope was occupied.
I can thoroughly recommend this book-it pulls no punches in getting its message across
on 29 November 2010
I have thoroughly enjoyed all of this author's books and was not disappointed with this one.
Juliet Gardiner covers all aspects of the Blitz, not just on London but on the rest of the country as well. It is easy for us in modern day Britain to read about this time in history and almost dismiss it without actually thinking about what the Blitz meant. Reading the harrowing descriptions of the nightly bombing and the unselfconcious heroism of the normal people who dreaded a "Bomber's Moon" and the bravery of the Air Raid Wardens, Rescue Squads etc night after night, made me really think and imagine what it must have been like and wonder if I could have possibly stood up to the experience.
Well worth reading to remind ourselves of what our parents and grandparents lived through.
on 23 August 2012
This book presents a detailed and broad account of life in Britain during the Blitz. It is very well written, in fact so well written I could often imagine as I read that someone was telling me the story in person. The book looks at where the Blitz struck, who it affected, how it affected them, the responses of the local authorities and of central government. It concentrates mainly on London, as the East End suffered the worst of the bombing, with a briefer survey of the Blitz in the provinces, Clydebank and Belfast receiving particular attention. It is full of detail and eye-witness accounts. This was the Home Front, the domestic war, with all of the terror of the battlefield and none of the excitement. The author often resists making comment and lets the facts and the situations speak for themselves. A polical message permeates the whole book, which is natural given that working class areas were hardest hit and social tensions were brought out by the Blitz, and although the politics was a little too obvious at times, it is nonetheless highly relevant. A very good book in my opinion.
on 30 October 2010
Great fan of this lady and have all her books on WWII. Sadly when reading this I felt I have read it all before in her other previous publications. I suppose after a while you can only write so much about the same subject. Felt like it was just covering old ground. If you have never read any thing by this lady before then this shall be a good read.
I've read several of Gardiner's books before, and this one doesn't disappoint. She has a very readable style and manages to strike a good balance between the broad picture and the intimate details of people's lives. The Blitz was obviously had an enormous impact across the nation, but what really brings it home are the small details of individuals - the mothers and children sheltering in the Tube stations, the old ladies in their Victorian bonnets bombed out of their home, the fire wardens stationed in St Paul's.
She also focuses not just on the physical impacts of the bombing, although it is incredible to read of the sheer physical destruction - being myself born over forty years after the Blitz it's hard to appreciate the scale of it - but the emotional and psychological impacts. The 'Blitz spirit' is such a cornerstone of the British mythical view of ourselves, so it's interesting to read about the reality - which was that people did get discouraged, people did get hysterical, people did get angry and frustrated and defeated, but such feelings were usually temporary and mostly served in the long run to strengthen people's determination that Hitler would not win.
on 9 March 2012
Just started reading the book, very interesting, but the font used is incredibilly small, whhich turns reading this book form a pleasure to a torture.
Pity, editors don't think of this.
on 30 May 2011
I'm quite ashamed to admit how much of this book came as news to me: the brevity of the actual Blitz (September 1040 to May 1941), its sheer reach - and how much of what we think of as "the Blitz spirit" was propaganda. Also very interesting in the light of First Blitz was how, despite learning some of the lessons of that blitz (progress from the policeman on a bike as air raid warning!), there was still so very much to learn when the Blitz of the Second World War materialised - and how those lessons seemed to have to be relearnt in each new location where the attacks fell. So overall the picture I had had of a country ready for such attacks was very far from the truth (I mean, did you know all the fire departments were local, ond often had different hose sizes, so nearby teams could actually not thelp when they were needed?).
Also fascinating is the dark underbelly of the Blitz - the looting on what appeaars to have been an epic scale, so bombed out families would return to their houses to find everything not bombed had been stolen, and the level of endemic anti Semitism.
But my favourite aspect of the book is the way Gardiner takes you through the raids with those who suffered them, with first hand accounts of the raids themselves and their aftermaths. So we stand in St Pauls Cathedral with the fireewatchers, alert to put out incendiaries whereever they fall as soon as can be; and the next morning we walk with one or other of the diarists around their bombstruck area, noticing the changes in the face of the city they knew and loved.
Full of fascinating insights and never a dull moment - enjoy!