Note to Likeminded Readers

De qué se hablaBlitz Books: the WWII British Home Front, 1938 to 1945

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Note to Likeminded Readers

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Jul 8, 2007, 6:51pm

Created by an American Anglophile, I'm looking for others who share an interest in Home Front life of WWII Britain.

While my parents experienced rationing and lived in a town that manufactured tanks, I find it hard to comprehend war occuring in one's own backyard - especially as this current "war on terrorism" asks for no sacrifice to the cause.

Perhaps I was at an impressionable age when Danger UXB appeared, but I'm finding The Light Years and similar books to be my constant companions and am gobbling up Mass-Obs wherever I can find them.

Jul 10, 2007, 9:39am

The two Mass Observation books I've read were excellent: Living Through the Blitz, by Tom Harrisson, and Wartime Women: A Mass-Observation Anthology, edited by Dorothy Sheridan. I like reading first-hand accounts of people's experiences, as it helps me understand how they lived.

One of the best accounts I've read of the famous December 29, 1940 raid on London is called The London Blitz, by David Johnson. Definitely worth reading (though it was published in the 1980s - I don't know if it's still available).

And I think the best fictional account of London during the Blitz - at least from what I've read - was in Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time series. The war is covered in the third trilogy of the series.

>1 meerka: I was able to borrow the Danger UXB PBS series from the library, and though it was very good. Is it based on a book?

Editado: Jul 10, 2007, 12:10pm

May I suggest "A Question of Honor" by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud about the heroic Polish fighter pilots in the RAF, a book very well received. I was once returning to US from Eastern Europe and had a Brit seatmate who told me stories of 2 of them billeted in his home when he was a boy. When the book came out, I thought of him and his stories, hence my purchase of this great addition to my library.

Edited to correct spelling. Shame on me :)

Jul 10, 2007, 12:29pm

I like reading both fiction and non-fiction about the Home Front. My parents served their time in the army mostly in UK (father in anti-aircraft artillery, mother a radar operator). Growing up in the late 1950s my earliest memories of London include the bomb damage which was still very evident, and as children we played around a pond that was a V2 crater. The war was still very close for my parents' generation and was very much part of the national psyche at the time. Since I've spent much of my adult life living and working through a very different war in Africa, my interest in World War II has been rekindled somewhat.

Non-fiction books which I find in my catalogue include Britain's Railways at War 1939-1945 by O S Nock, A Land Girl's War by Joan Snelling, and The Battle of Britain: Dowding and the First Victory, 1940 by John Ray, as well as more general histories of the war.

Spike Milligan includes some Home Front insights in his autobiographical series which begins with Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall.

The only fiction I have which is specifically about the Blitz is The Fire Fighter by Francis Cottam, but books by David Fiddimore include a lot of Home Front settings, as do many war novels.

And if one is allowed to mention a TV series, Dad's Army is essential viewing. I'm just re-watching them all on DVD and I've reached the fifth series. There are many episodes that I hadn't seen since they were first aired in the 1960s and '70s.

Jul 10, 2007, 3:19pm

The last Volume of Helen Forrester's autobiography Lime Street At Two covers her life in Liverpool during the war.
It's an interesting story because, although she obviously experienced many war related hardships (including the death of her fiancee), her life actually improved in many ways during the war years.

6janiswatson Primer Mensaje
Jul 11, 2007, 6:10am

Has anyone read D.E. Stevenson's books about life in Britain and Scotland during the war? These are novels that talk about the lives of everyday people making do with what they have and waiting for better times to come. It's the first time I ever heard "Use it up/wear it out/make it do/or do without" I don't know when they were published, maybe as long as 40 years ago. She was a gifted storyteller (and the neice of Robert Louis Stevenson) who took me right back to that period of history.

Jul 14, 2007, 1:13pm

I believe that the UXB book was written as a companion to the TV series, but that's a twenty-some year old memory!

Mass-Obs also has downloadable PDFs that I took advantage of. In many cases it's reproduced in the original handwriting which makes it a very personal experience.

I suppose I should really try to get my parents to talk more about their hometown during the war. One side of the family had been in The Colonies since prior to the American Revolution, the other, 1800s German immigrants. Surprisingly, my mother remembers no hostility about being German, but the name was unofficially changed to Smith!

Jul 14, 2007, 1:32pm

I'm not sure what Mass-Obs is, but I gather from the context that it is first-hand accounts of people's experiences. BBC has collected first hand accounts. Quoting their own introduction, "The BBC asked the public to contribute their memories of World War Two to a website between June 2003 and January 2006. This archive of 47,000 stories and 15,000 images is the result." They can be found at

Jul 14, 2007, 7:29pm

"I'm not sure what Mass-Obs is, but I gather from the context that it is first-hand accounts of people's experiences."

Not quite. Mass Observation (Mass-Obs) was a sort-of anthropological project which recruited people to observe and record all sorts of aspects of daily life in Britain, starting in 1937 and going right through the war, the sorts of ephemeral experiences and attitudes of ordinary people which otherwise might not be recorded. So they might examine children's games in one area of London, or the daily routine of housewives in Newcastle, or what people thought about the war in Cornwall (I'm just making this examples up). So it's not quite first-hand accounts in the sense of contemporary diaries (though these did form part of the Mass-Obs method) or later oral history interviews, but an attempt at a "scientific" overview of British life.

Of particular interest here is that, not only did Mass-Obs operate throughout the war, but they were also employed by the Ministry of Information (or was it Home Security? I'm away from my books) as an independent consulting group, and in this capacity sent teams into many of the blitzed suburbs or towns, usually by the day after. So it's an invaluable record of life during the Blitz, and the book mentioned above by Tom Harrisson (one of the co-founders of Mass-Obs), Living through the Blitz, draws on the archives and Harrisson's own experiences. The Mass Observation homepage is at

BTW, I'm doing a PhD which deals with the Blitz in a small way (I'm more concerned with anticipations of the Blitz). John Ray's The Night Blitz is a good overview; and Angus Calder's The Myth of the Blitz is great if you want a book which doesn't take the standard narrative of 1940 for granted.

Jul 14, 2007, 11:20pm

#8 - In addition to the BBC site, which is completely searchable (type in Andrew's Liver Salts for instance!), I also found Milton Keynes' living history website which I'm also enjoying randomly reading from.

(I don't remember how to insert links!)

Jul 14, 2007, 11:20pm

Editado: Jul 16, 2007, 9:28pm

If you feel like reading some fiction on this topic:
Three Women of Liverpool by Helen Forrester

Ene 1, 2008, 9:39am

Or how about Land Girls by Angela Huth?

Feb 2, 2008, 6:44pm

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald--it's about a department within the BBC during the war, the odd people who work there, and their mission to broadcast the "truth" to the British people.

Feb 22, 2008, 11:23am

Does anyone own an Amazon Kindle, or are you all Britishers (They are currently available only in the US)? War on the Margins, my book on the Channel Islands occupation is available on Kindle only; I hope to have the paperback out in a couple of months. I humbly invite you to look at it.

Libby Cone

aka reademwritem

Abr 9, 2008, 6:59am

I've just started Good Evening, Mrs Craven, which is a great collection of short stories written about the home front and published in The New Yorker in the 1940s.

Jul 9, 2009, 2:39am

neglected! Will get back to more of my more recent books if there's anyone else hanging on!

Jul 9, 2009, 2:43am

Just checked Amazon (I don't have a Kindle) looking forward to a paperback!

Jul 9, 2009, 8:19am

I'm slooooowly reading a Blitz diary by Vere Hodgson, called Few Eggs and No Oranges: A Diary showing how Unimportant People in London and Birmingham lived through the war years 1940-1945. I'm about 80 pages into it, and it's starting to get more interesting, as she adds more detail about everyday life. There's a good review on LT by scarletslippers.

Ene 5, 2010, 4:55am

I have that one, Maggie, but haven't read it yet. I was given a couple of other good ones for Christmas this year too: We Are at War by Simon Garfield and Betty's Wartime Diary.

Ene 5, 2010, 11:25pm

On our satellite TV station yesterday there was a repeat of an episode of Foyle's War, a detective series set in Britain during World War II.