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The Blitz as a lived experience

The Blitz: The British Under Attack - Juliet Gardiner

For the British, there is perhaps no more iconic event of the 20th century than the Blitz. The German bombing campaign that stretched from September 1940 until June 1941 was an event that people experienced throughout the British isles, from London and the southeast to Belfast in Northern Ireland. As such it was a shared experience, albeit one filtered through the personal circumstances of the individual and their particular experience of the war. Yet for all of the specific moments in which the Blitz touched their lives, it was an inescapable experience for everyone,


Encapsulating this within the covers of a single book is just one of the challenges undertaken by Juliet Gardiner in writing a history of the event. Another is to penetrate the shared mythology of the event that has grown up around it over the decades in order to convey the realities of the experience and the response of its survivors. In both respects her book is an unqualified success, as she moves beyond the "keep calm and carry on" legend to convey a more nuanced portrait of how Britons coped. For while many rose to the challenge, others faltered in response to a crisis unprecedented in its nature. Its impact proved far-reaching, forcing adjustments to a situation that unfolded in ways few anticipated. Gardiner's coverage here is impressively comprehensive, addressing everything from the shifts in official policy to the problems of looting and other criminal activities it spawned.


All of this makes Gardiner's book an excellent read for anyone seeking to learn about the Blitz. Yet its greatest strength is its focus. For while Gardiner addresses the evolution of official policy in response to the attacks, her narrative is centered primarily upon the experiences of the people themselves. By drawing upon contemporary reporting, published accounts, and the oral histories collected years afterward, she provides her readers with a superb study that conveys well the broad impact of the Blitz and its legacy for British history. For as she argues, it was from this event more than any other of the war that the commitment to the postwar "New Jerusalem" was forged. In this respect, the Blitz left an imprint upon Britain in ways that are still visible today, decades after the last craters were filled and bombed sites rebuilt.