What are some historical details in The Machine Gunners?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many historical details in the story revolve around the Nazi bombings in England during World War II. Since the story takes place during the height of these bombings, conversation and narration are all centered around the effects of the bombings on individuals and society. Robert Westall lived through the actual bombings during his youth, so he is able to draw on personal memories to show the horrors of the war as well as the ability of children to cope. The protagonist, 14-year-old Chas, sees the acquisition of bomb fragments as a way to promote his social status; he copes with the war by treating it almost as a game.

At the corner of Marston Road, the pavement was burnt into a white patch a yard across. Incendiary bomb! The tailfin would be somewhere near -- they normally bounced off hard when the bomb hit.
(Westall, The Machine Gunners, Google Books)

Other details include the spread of bomb fragments -- Chas correctly intuits that larger fragments may be slowed by hedges -- and the dress and demeanour of working-class English citizens. Cowed by the constant bombings, Chas's parents understand the real meaning of the war, and try to talk lightly of events, but death has become a part of everyday life, and they also understand that their children are going to grow up faster than themselves. Westall uses strong descriptive imagery -- a dead Nazi's "...right eye, pale grey, watched... tolerantly and a little sadly" -- to show both the immediate horrors of war and the powerful, lasting impressions it has on the children.