Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wartime: Britain 1939-1945

Wartime: Britain 1939-1945 focuses on how World War II affected the populace of Great Britain, using in many cases quotes from letters and diaries written during that time. The emphasis is on what happened in the country itself, not on the war waged in other countries.

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.

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Publisher: Headline, 2004
Length:  782 pages, including endnotes, bibliography, and index
Format:  trade paperback
Genre: Non-fiction

30 comments:

  1. Tracy, I'd love to read this book as I don't know a great deal about Britain during WWII in spite of the country being in the thick of it. It was interesting to read about the treatment of blacks in the British and US militaries during the war. I recall reading somewhere that people from various countries, as far as Africa and South America, enlisted in the war against Germany, whether for the cause or a job I'm not sure.

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    1. Prashant, what I knew before I read this book just scratched the surface. I definitely learned a lot.

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  2. Tracy - This sounds like a really informative, rich read. And that was such an important time in history too; I really ought to know more about it. Thanks.

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    1. Margot, it is full of peoples experiences and attitudes at the time, which is very interesting.

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  3. TracyK: Thanks for an interesting review.

    I knew a woman who had been an air raid warden or observer during the Blitz of London. Forty years after the war she had to leave a dance in a ballroom when balloons started popping. The exploding balloons had flashed her back to the Blitz.

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    1. Bill, that is a fascinating story. Based on what I read, the people who lived in some areas of the country were in very scary situations a lot of the time.

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  4. This sounds like an interesting read, Tracy: it's something I know little about as well.

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    1. It is, Rebecca. For anyone who likes to read non-fiction, I highly recommend it. My husband reads much more non-fiction than I do, and he loaned it to me. He also has the book about the Blitz that she wrote.

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  5. Another pass for me TBH, though its a reminder that I ought to read some non-fiction soon.

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    1. I might push this one more, Col, were it shorter. But if it took me a year to get through... I was glad I read it, and I learned a lot, but ...

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    2. I was having a look at a book Norman (Crimescraps) was reading - "Fascist Voices" - an intimate history of Fascist Italy.That looks more appealing to me, though again the length at 500+ pages has me pausing.

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    3. Yes, he has been reading some very disturbing non-fiction. About the Nazis, and one called Iron Curtain. Very interesting stuff but I probably would not read much of it.

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  6. That sounds fascinating Tracy, and as I think I said before, I have read another book by her and know how good she is. My mother lived through bombing - the northern city of Liverpool was a key target and was bombed regularly. She lived near the docks, prime target, and their house was hit several times - eventually the family had to move elsewhere. She has lived a long and happy life since, but she does say she doesn't particularly want to eg watch TV programmes about the war.

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    1. Moira, I don't blame your mother. I am sure I would feel the same way. Over the last few years I have tried to learn much more about the WWII experience and have grasped the fact that it is a huge subject. Glen and I watched a 20 episode documentary series and it just scratched the surface.

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  7. I'm not into reading about either world war, just can't deal with it. I know enough for my own satisfaction, and do not want to read about the terrible toll of death, injury and PTSD from WWI foisted on the soldiers, nor about the horrors of WWII.

    Also, I need to relax and be distracted and entertained when I read. Not to say that I don't like profound reads, I do, but not about war.

    "The Red Road" by Denise Mina, my latest read, had enough grit for me. It's unrelenting in some ways, ties together so many issues and it's a tough read. But in the end, it's rewarding, and Mina's brilliance is obvious.

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    1. I do enjoy historical fiction set before, during and after WWII, Kathy. But some of the non-fiction is unbearable reading about the atrocities of the war. I could not finish the 2nd book by Richard J. Evans about the development of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, about the buildup to the war.

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  8. It is interesting to note that though Britain might have been shrill against the Nazi's persecution of the Jews, its own policies discriminated against Blacks and other colonial people despite the fact that they were fighting on the side of the Allies. Prejudice, apparently, is hard to overcome.

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    1. I agree, Neer. And prejudice was (and is) all over the place, in every country, against some minority or group not in favor. Appalling, but true.

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  9. This sounds like my kind of thing, Trace and I want to read more non-fiction. Britain at war is a fascinating subject and I remember my grandmother telling me lots of stories.

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    1. Sarah, my father was in the military in World War II (in India and China I think, not in Europe), and he loved to read (and talk) about that period. But no one else I knew really experienced much of the war, especially from a civilian's point of view, so I learned a lot.

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  10. Two things come to mind:

    A friend who is now in her 80s lived in England and during the blitz, she and her siblings went sent to rural areas, to farms to live with other families. She told me that she and her siblings had to eat in the kitchen, and not in the dining room with the biological family members. Also, they were Jewish, which could have been a factor.

    In fact, there was anti-Semitism among the British establishment, the rich, politicians, government officials, etc. Author John Lawton wrote a fascinating essay about anti-Semitism in the British establishment prior to and during WWII.

    I recall reading somewhere that often Jewish immigrants were sent to the Isle of Man as suspicious characters, along with suspected Nazis -- and transported in the same vehicle, train, ship, etc. They must have been terrified.

    Have you heard of this practice? What insensitivity!

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    1. Kathy, I have read about anti-Semitism in Britain (and many other countries) at the time. I will have to find that essay by John Lawton. He is one of my favorite authors. One of John Lawton's novels, Second Violin, features internees at the Isle of Man (including Jewish immigrants).

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  11. I think I'm going to have to get my hands on this book.

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    1. There is a lot of good information in this book, Ryan.

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  12. Do you have a twitter or a pinterest? I like to share posts linked up to nonfiction Friday and just want to give credit where credit is due :) Either way, thanks for sharing!

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    1. Sorry, Katie, I don't use twitter or pinterest. But I appreciate you asking. I was excited to share my non-fiction read and I am trying to read more this year and into the future.

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  13. I'm always fascinated by the story of the home front in World War II -- especially in the US and Britain.

    The Jim Crow Army showed up in a couple of recent historical TV series (Land Girls and Foyle's War). I felt that the TV representation portrayed the English as less racist than they probably were and it looks like Gardiner would agree.

    I recently read Sugar in the Blood by Andrea Stuart. She points out that the WWII history as represented in museums is white-washed -- not making note of the real contributions that were made by "coloured British subjects" even though their presence was discouraged.

    This would make a terrific post to link up to British Isles Friday: http://www.joyweesemoll.com/2014/06/06/the-royal-society-and-the-clockwork-universe-brifri-bookreview/

    And, if you do link up, I'll second DoingDewey's question. It's always fun to share the links on social media.

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    1. Joy, thanks for all that information. I looked up Sugar in the Blood and it does sound very interesting. I did see Foyle's War... all the episodes and I agree with your comment on that.

      I have linked up to British Isles Friday. I am sorry, I had intended to link up before, as I usually read a good number of books set in the British Isles, but lately life has been too busy and I forget a lot of what I plan to do. As I told Katie, I don't use twitter or Pinterest.

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  14. This does sound like a great reference book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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    1. Anna, the book is a great resource.

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