Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Blitz by Juliet Gardiner

What the Hurricane was up against is brought shockingly home in Juliet Gardiner’s The Blitz (Harper Press, £25), another 70th anniversary book that examines the impact of the greatest sustained assault that Britain has ever experienced. For 76 nights over the autumn and winter of 1940-41, British cities large and small were savagely battered by the Luftwaffe. Gardiner, a distinguished social historian who has made the war, as experienced by the civilian population, her specialist subject, is more interested in the Blitz’s effect on the fabric of civil society and ordinary men, women and children than the military aspects of the battle, and she comes up with some surprising conclusions.

Before the war, Stanley Baldwin had been reluctant to equip Britain with fighters, gloomily predicting: 'The bomber will always get through.’ Not only did the Hurricane prove that forecast wrong, the similarly pessimistic prediction that aerial bombing would kill more than half a million people and provoke a revolution (the actual figure was a still awful 43,000) proved similarly misplaced. The legend of British stiff upper lip stoicism may be a myth, but Gardiner shows that the Blitz did spark a surprisingly durable social solidarity extending from an East End brutalised by bombs to Buckingham Palace, which also took a hit. When it came to the crunch, Britain could (and did) indeed take it.

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