London 1945: Life in the Debris of War

London 1945: Life in the Debris of War

by Maureen Waller
     
 

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London at the outset of World War II in 1939 was the greatest city in the world, the heart of the British Empire. By 1945, it was a drab and exhausted city, beginning the long haul back to recovery.
The defiant capital of England had always been Hitler's prime target. The last months of the Second World War saw the final phase of the battle of London as the

Overview

London at the outset of World War II in 1939 was the greatest city in the world, the heart of the British Empire. By 1945, it was a drab and exhausted city, beginning the long haul back to recovery.
The defiant capital of England had always been Hitler's prime target. The last months of the Second World War saw the final phase of the battle of London as the enemy unleashed its new vengeance weapons, the flying bombs and rockets. They were terrifying and brought destruction on a vast scale, but fortunately came too late to dent morale seriously.

The people of London were showing the spirit, courage, and resilience that had earned them the admiration of the world during a long siege. In the harshest winter of fifty years, they were living in primitive conditions. Thousands were homeless, living in the Underground and deep shelters. Women lined up for horse meat and were lucky to obtain one egg a month. They besieged emergency coal dumps. Everyone longed for peace.

The bright new world seemed elusive. As the victory celebrations passed into memory, there were severe hardships and all the problems of post-war adjustment. Women lost the independence the war had lent them, husbands and wives had to learn to live together again, and children had a lot of catching up to do.

Yet London's loss has often been its opportunity. Its people had eagerly embraced plans for a modern metropolis and an end to poverty. They voted overwhelmingly for a Labour government and the new, fairer social order that was their reward for all they had endured.

The year of victory, 1945, represents an important chapter in London's---and Britain's---long history. Acclaimed historian Maureen Waller draws on a rich array of primary sources, letting the people tell their own story, to re-create that moment, bringing to it the social insight at which she excels.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Waller (1700: Scenes from a London Life) has written a chilling account of London life during the last months of World War II and the dawn of the postwar era. Suffering under the deadly attacks of Hitler's newly developed V-2 rocket, launched from nearby Holland, Londoners learned to tell by sound just how close these horrible missiles (dubbed "doodlebugs") would land. Waller describes the chronic food and clothing shortages and the incredible stress on families. She also presents the remarkable and, at times, unbelievable spirit of defiance that carried most Londoners through their darkest hours. Waller's book masterfully supplements Philip Ziegler's London at War, 1939-1945 and provides the reader with a well-crafted story of war and its cruel impact on a large European city. Recommended for all collections.-Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A gracefully rendered portrait of a great city at war. Waller (Ungrateful Daughters, 2003) writes with illuminating and abundant detail: Whereas other histories of WWII mention that the historic, square-mile City of London was badly damaged in Luftwaffe bombing raids, she notes that "a total of 417 high explosive bombs were dropped on the City alone, 13 parachute mines, 2,498 oil bombs, and thousands of incendiaries." Other parts of the metropolis fared no better, and thousands of civilians died. By 1945, the last year of the war, the numbers of dead were declining somewhat as Hitler's forces turned to a desperate defensive war, but the toll was still heavy. Londoners escaped as best they could-physically, by burrowing underground, and emotionally, by indulging in such outlets as they could, some good, some bad. Waller takes a daily-life approach to chronicle that last year, which seemed to dawn without promise of relief. January, she writes, was the coldest in half a century: "There were sheets of ice in the Straits of Dover and in London Big Ben froze." Food supplies were dwindling, too, though Londoners made do with what they could get until rations were slashed after the peace was signed. Waller writes of the renaissance in book publishing as Londoners turned to reading as never before, even as publishers were forced to make do with printing paper that, George Orwell grumbled, was flimsier than toilet tissue; and of the equally remarkable flourishing of prostitution as London filled with foreign soldiers and once-respectable neighborhoods sprouted brothels that, as a patriotic measure, put low-paid British servicemen on a different tariff from the higher-paid Yanks. If there was agood side to it all, Waller observes, it was that the bombings afforded London a chance to rebuild an overgrown and somewhat decrepit city, though the job of rebuilding took 50 years. She concludes, "It has been worth the wait."Vivid and highly readable: for students of WWII and urban history alike.
From the Publisher

“Thoroughly engrossing...builds up a detailed picture of daily life in London.” —The New York Times

“Joins the ranks of such works as Philip Zeigler's London at War and Robert Hewison's Under Siege: Literary Life in London, 1939–1945... Her depiction of the daily fabric of wartime life in the capital is unrivaled.... An illuminating approach.” —The Atlantic Monthly

“Waller...balances an enormous amount of data with a journalistic attention to anecdote and oral history in this stunning book.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A gracefully rendered portrait of a great city at war...Vivid and highly readable.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Waller's book masterfully supplements Philip Ziegler's London at War, 1939–1945 and provides the reader with a well-crafted story of war and its cruel impact on a large European city.” —Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466861534
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
12/31/2013
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
528
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Maureen Waller was educated at University College London, where she studied medieval and modern history. She received a master's degree at Queen Mary College, London, in British and European history 1660-1714. After a brief stint at the National Portrait Gallery, she went on to work as an editor at several prestigious London publishing houses. Her first book was the highly acclaimed 1700: Scenes from London Life. She currently lives in London with her husband, who is a journalist and author.


Maureen Waller was educated at University College London, where she studied medieval and modern history. She received a master's degree at Queen Mary College, London, in British and European history 1660--1714. After a brief stint at the National Portrait Gallery, she went on to work as an editor at several prestigious London publishing houses. Her first book was the highly acclaimed 1700: Scenes from London Life. Her other books include Sovereign Ladies: The Six Reigning Queens of England and Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown. She currently lives in London with her husband, who is a journalist and author.

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