Sunday, April 28, 2013

Blitz! - Margaret Gaskin

“The two worlds, the world of peace and the world of war, exist side by side, separated only by a few minutes of twilight.”
“Blitz!” tells the story of December 29, 1940 in London during the Blitzkreig when the city experienced one of the worst bombings of WWII. The book encompasses a wide variety of people from all walks of life with the one thread tying them together the fact that they’ve decided to stay in London despite the danger. We learn of the bravery of ordinary citizens and how important landmarks were to morale, including St. Pauls’ Cathedral, a symbol of London which is threatened during the firebombing.

We begin before the bombing with all of the volunteers who have chosen to stay behind, going about their everyday jobs. Most of these Londoners were civilians so it’s interesting to see how they adjusted to their new jobs, whether it was a member of the Home Guard, the ARP (Air Raid Precautions Service) or the Auxiliary Fire Service. I loved how the book chronologically progressed through December 29 with each chapter beginning with a radio program schedule for that portion of the day. Not only is this a refreshing way to inform the reader about which part of the day the events in the chapter unfold, it also creates a growing sense of apprehension as day turns to night because the reader knows what’s coming.

“The high wind which accompanies conflagrations is now stronger than ever, and the air is filled with a fierce driving rain of red-hot sparks and burning brands. The clouds overhead are a rose-pink from the reflected glow of the fires.”

The great descriptions and visual imagery create an atmosphere of danger and fear that puts you right in the midst of the chaos and heat. “It was as light as day, with huge fires all around, flames rising far above the houses, the place full of smoke and sparks and great blobs of burning stuff floating about and every now and then a bomb.” Throughout the night we follow a variety of people in different situations across the city. All of these great little stories interspersed throughout really showed how all-encompassing the threat was. It wasn’t unlikely for children to slip out of their bomb shelters during raids to help fire crews. I especially liked reading about the roof crew looking after St. Paul’s Cathedral. During the bombing it’s described as “some miraculous figure that appears before peace-hungry soldiers on a battlefield.” The best story though has to be about St. Lawrence Jewry. During the raid, an otherworldly shriek came from inside as a bomb had hit the synagogue, lighting the organ on fire. As the hot air from the fire blew through the organ pipes it made a sound like an alien in the throes of death. This was an awesome image and I could easily imagine what the pipes must have sounded like.

One paragraph that really made me think described the fire as ‘burning away time’ as it destroyed modern London. It was such an evocative image and really cemented the destructive power of these bombs and how it wasn’t just destroying the city it was destroying London’s past, obliterating all memory of what came before.

I loved reading this book, not only because I’m interested in WW2  but also because I didn’t know much about the London Blitz other than that it happened. If you’re interested in learning about what the London Blitz was like, this book will put you right in the middle of the action.

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