London at War, 1939-1945

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

During World War II, German missiles and bombing raids placed civilians living in London in the front line of battle. Prior to the war, British political leaders feared the German raids on British cities would cause such extensive casualties that there would be mass hysteria among civilians. The issue of how well Londoners held up under the raids has been a matter of debate. Some historians have questioned the popular view that Londoners were uniquely courageous and that under the stress of enemy attack class and other social divisions gave way to a new sense of community.

In LONDON AT WAR, Philip Ziegler reaffirms the traditional interpretation. He claims that the war brought a change of heart for Londoners as they developed a new sense of unity and a readiness to sacrifice their personal interests for the good of the community. He acknowledges the continued importance of anti-Semitism, the emergence of a black market, the rising crime and divorce rates, and the growing racial problems following the arrival of African American soldiers in large numbers, but minimizes their importance. Instead, Ziegler focuses on the self-sacrificing spirit of the Londoners who volunteered to help their country defeat the Germans.

Ziegler is best known as a biographer and he makes good use of interviews, letters and diaries to convey a sense of how individual Londoners experienced the war. Some may find the book too anecdotal, but the reader who is looking for an inspiring account of wartime London will enjoy this volume.