In 1939 London was not merely the greatest city in the world, it was the most tempting and vulnerable target for aerial attack. For six years it was the frontline of the free world's battle against Fascism. It endured the horrors of the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the V1s, the V2s. Other cities suffered more intensely; no other city was so constantly under attack for so long a time. This is the story of London at war - or, perhaps, of Londoners at war, for Philip Ziegler, known best as a biographer, is above all fascinated by the people who found their lives so suddenly and violently transformed: the querulous, tiresome yet strangely gallant housewife from West Hampstead; the turbulent, left-wing retired schoolmaster from Walthamstow, always having a go at the authorities; the odiously snobbish middleclass lady from Kensington, sneering at the scum who took shelter in the Underground; the typist from Fulham, the plumber from Woolwich. It was their war, quite as much as it was Churchill's or the King's, and this is their history.
Through a wealth of interviews and unpublished letters and diaries, as well as innumerable books and newspapers, the author has built up a vivid picture of a population under siege. There were cowards, there were criminals, there were incompetents, but what emerges from these pages is above all a record of astonishing patience, dignity and courage. 'I hope,' Ziegler writes, 'we will never have to endure again what they went through between 1939 and 1945. I hope, if we did, that we would conduct ourselves as well.'
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(234mm x 154mm x 29mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
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UK Kirkus Review »
Author of Soldiers and The Black Death, Ziegler has written a fascinating social history of how London and Londoners coped with the Second World War. The author reveals the incompetence prevalent in many areas of local authority at the start of the war - there were insufficient air-raid shelters and the knee-jerk decision to close all cinemas and theatres was unnecessary and did nothing to improve morale. The Blitz started in autumn 1940, and between September 1940 and May 1941 over 30,000 Londoners were killed and more than a million made homeless. The devastation caused is vividly illustrated by the photographs in the book. Aerial bombardment continued, with the terrifying V1s and V2s creating even more destruction, and it was not until 27 March 1945 that the last bomb fell on London. The author brings this dreadful time alive, and also dispels some of the myths of the Blitz - good humour and community spirit were not as widespread as is popularly believed, and there were high levels of anti-Semitism and racism during the war. It is the detail above all that makes this book so interesting - how the war affected London Zoo, the removal of iron railings for the war effort and the effect of the bombing on communities. A wide variety of people populate the book, from Nazi sympathizers and evacuees to the voluntary services such as the Air Raid Precautions and the Home Guard. Most striking is the extent to which normal life went on under heavy bombardment, particularly considering that shops and offices were already struggling to stay open with vastly reduced workforces. Ziegler includes numerous first-hand accounts from all walks of life, and these really set this book apart and enable the reader to understand people's everyday hopes and fears. For those interested in pursuing the subject, there is a thorough bibliography with suggestions for further reading. This book is highly recommended for readers interested in London or social history, and as a reminder of war's devastating effects. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Philip Ziegler
Philip Ziegler was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, where he gained first class honours in Jurisprudence. He then joined the Diplomatic Service and served in Vientiane, Paris, Pretoria and Bogota before resigning to join the publishers William Collins, where he was editorial director for over fifteen years. He lives in London.