As Napoleon once noted: "history is a set of lies agreed upon". Historical events are often portrayed in nice neat categories with a large dose of `good old days' nostalgia chucked on top.
The reality much more often than not turns out to be very different. And so it proves with Dr North's superb very readable book here. The Battle of Britain conjures up evocative images of long hot days, soaring Spitfires and the bravery of the few repelling an anticipated German invasion. The truth though is somewhat more complicated and as a consequence far more fascinating. With rigorous research and analytical clarity this book redresses the balance away from the myth and towards the `many' who all played their part in the war; the RN, the Army, the Merchant Navy and notably the civilian population.
One of the main themes throughout the book is that the civilian population was in fact fighting a war on two fronts - against the Germans and against their own Government and Establishment. Many of the criticisms at the time would not look out of place today, the London centric newspapers (ignoring the rest of the UK, like Hull, which was being bombed relentlessly) an incompetent Government, the authoritarian nature and pettiness of Magistrates as over-the-top punishments were handed out for `dubious' non-offences, the reluctance to provide decent public shelters and the refusal to allow the use of Underground stations as refuge until the people took matters into their own hands.
This book is less a criticism of the `few' narrative, more a tribute to the millions of unsung heroes without whom we would have lost. It's also a reminder that the real enemy then (as is now) is in fact our own Government.
A very worthy addition to any bookshelf.
Thursday, 15 March 2012
The Many Not The Few
Dr Richard North's new book on the Battle of Britain which is a tribute to the 'many'. I reproduce my Amazon review here: