It is a superb reference for anyone who wants to know about life in Great Britain at this time. Many, many details of life at the time are covered in the 692 pages of text. As a resource for research, or just to broaden one's knowledge of the time and the country, it is excellent.
The book gave me a much fuller appreciation of what World War II was like for the people of Great Britain. You can read comments on that topic, or even novels set in that time period, but not truly understand how much it touched all people, every day, in many ways and how many sacrifices were made. However, I did not find this an easy book to read and it took me nearly a year to finish it. It was full of details, at times more than I was interested in.
One place I slowed down was somewhere in the three chapters (and about 100 pages) about the Blitz. The Blitz is a very interesting subject. I found that I could not read that many pages about the unrelenting horror of the realities of the Blitz. Never knowing what the night would bring. Losing family members and friends or one's home. I did finish that section but I had to take a rest from it for a while.
Several of the chapters were of special interest to me. In a chapter on the arts and the artists, Gardiner says:
As the blitz spread in the autumn of 1940 it became harder to know where the nation's treasures, like the nation's citizens, would be safe. Britain's artistic heritage had to be protected from destruction.Before the war began, paintings had been moved from the National Gallery in London to other, safer locations. Other treasures followed. But it was not only the art treasures that were affected, but the lives and work of the artists themselves. There was less money to pay for art and artistic pursuits, supplies were needed for the war, and artists suffered like everyone else.
The next chapter covers how the production of essentials for civilians and war materiel was affected. Men were pulled into occupations that they had not trained for. There was a need for skilled workers but it was difficult to organize the effort to fill the positions. Women were needed to fill many gaps, so that more men could be released for combatant duty.
The National Service (No. 2) Act became law on 18 December 1941. Its terms made Britain the first nation in the world to conscript women.I knew that they filled many jobs in this period, but I had not known that women were conscripted. Women served in auxiliary branches of the armed services in many positions, including pilots.
The next chapter, titled 'OVER HERE', describes the influx of foreigners into the UK during the war. Italian and German prisoners of war were brought in as another solution to the demand for manpower in agriculture and industry. Servicemen from many countries came to the UK to join the fight. The largest numbers came from Canada and the US.
This chapter provided very interesting facts about how the US troops were prepared to come into the UK, and the impact their arrival made there.
I was most struck by the descriptions of how black GIs were treated in the military. A caption for a photo of two black soldiers says:
A 'Jim Crow Army' comes to Britain. US policy was not to 'intermingle' black and white enlisted men, and the 100,000 black GIs in Britain were in segregated units, often doing manual work, until high casualty rates by late 1944 meant they too were sent into battle.She also says:
The British government did not want black GIs to come to Britain. As far as its own Black Dominion troops were concerned, the Foreign Office had already made it clear that 'the recruitment to the United Kingdom of coloured British subjects, whose remaining in the United Kingdom after the war might create social problems, is not considered desirable.'Other subjects covered were: conscientious objectors, fascists in Britain, criminals and crime during wartime, and internment.
At the WW2history.com site, Juliet Gardiner's background is described:
She is an acclaimed social historian of the Second World War who has made a special study both of the Blitz and of the impact of the arrival of American soldiers in wartime Britain.At that link, you can find interviews with Gardiner on World War II topics.
Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 was published in 2004. Gardiner has written a book about the Blitz that has been published more recently, in 2010.
Publisher: Headline, 2004
Length: 782 pages, including endnotes, bibliography, and index
Format: trade paperback