London At War
In 1939 London was not merely the greatest city in the world, it was the most tempting and vulnerable target for aerial attack. For six years it was the frontline of the free world's battle against Fascism. It endured the horrors of the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the V1s, the V2s. Other cities suffered more intensely; no other city was so constantly under attack for so long a time. This is the story of London at war - or, perhaps, of Londoners at war, for Philip Ziegler, known best as a biographer, is above all fascinated by the people who found their lives so suddenly and violently transformed: the querulous, tiresome yet strangely gallant housewife from West Hampstead; the turbulent, left-wing retired schoolmaster from Walthamstow, always having a go at the authorities; the odiously snobbish middleclass lady from Kensington, sneering at the scum who took shelter in the Underground; the typist from Fulham, the plumber from Woolwich. It was their war, quite as much as it was Churchill's or the King's, and this is their history. Through a wealth of interviews and unpublished letters and diaries, as well as innumerable books and newspapers, the author has built up a vivid picture of a population under siege. There were cowards, there were criminals, there were incompetents, but what emerges from these pages is above all a record of astonishing patience, dignity and courage. 'I hope,' Ziegler writes, 'we will never have to endure again what they went through between 1939 and 1945. I hope, if we did, that we would conduct ourselves as well.'