Thursday, May 27, 2010
38. London 1945 : life in the debris of war
Rated: 5 Stars
Recommended by Connie
I was ten years old when WWII ended so I have a lot of memories of that time. But all my memories are that of a child so naturally I only remember the things that effected my world like food, gas and clothing rationing. Especially sugar rationing! That was a big deal to me and I have vivid memories of adding sugar to my breakfast cereal almost grain by grain in order to save sugar for a birthday cake or cookies.
But I don't remember ever being hungry, cold or scared. Reading this book I was quickly made aware that WWII was a very different war in Europe than it was in the American Midwest. This was not a romanticized picture of what London bravely endured but a gritty portrayal of what life was really like for the people of London.
London at the outset of war in 1939 was the greatest city in the world, the heart of the British Empire. By 1945, it was a drab and exhausted city, beginning the long haul back to recovery.
The defiant capital had always been Hitler's prime target. The last months of the war saw the final phase of the battle of London as the enemy unleashed its new vengeance weapons, the flying bombs and rockets. They were terrifying and brought destruction on a vast scale, but fortunately came too late to dent morale seriously.
The people of London were showing the spirit, courage, and resilience that had earned them the admiration of the world during a long siege. In the harshest winter of fifty years, they were living in primitive conditions. Thousands were homeless, living in the Underground and deep shelters. Women lined up for horse meat and were lucky to obtain one egg a month. They besieged emergency coal dumps. Everyone longed for peace.
The bright new world seemed elusive. As the victory celebrations passed into memory, there were severe hardships and all the problems of post-war adjustment. Women lost the independence the war had lent them, husbands and wives had to learn to live together again, and children had a lot of catching up to do.
Yet London's loss has often been its opportunity. Its people had eagerly embraced plans for a modern metropolis and an end to poverty. They voted overwhelmingly for a Labour government and the new, fairer social order that was their reward for all they had endured.
The year of victory, 1945, represents an important chapter in London's---and Britain's---long history. Acclaimed historian Maureen Waller draws on a rich array of primary sources, letting the people tell their own story, to re-create that moment, bringing to it the social insight at which she excels.