I bring you a non-fiction book that I think will interest many of you. Fabulous.
The Home Front 1939–1945 in 100 Objects by Austin J Ruddy
A lifesaving gas mask. A ration book, essential for the supply of food. A shelter stove that kept a family warm whilst they huddled in their Anderson shelter. A leaflet dropped by the Luftwaffe that was designed to intimidate Britain’s populace during the threat of invasion. A civilian identity card over-stamped with the swastika eagle from the occupied Channel Islands. A rare, previously unpublished, snapshot of legendary American bandleader Glenn Miller playing at a UK air base. A twisted remnant of German V2 rocket that went to space and back before exploding over London, the result of equally twisted military science. Colourful flag bunting that saw the VE celebrations in 1945: All disparate objects that together tell the moving and important story of Britain’s Home Front during the Second World War.
The ordinary objects featured in this book, whether those produced in their millions to the far from ordinary or unique, all portray and exude the highs and lows of the British people during six years of war. From the deprivations of rationing and the bombing of the Blitz, to the cheery songs, elegant fashions and ‘Dig For Victory’ spirit, are all captured in colour.
The phrase ‘If only this could talk …’ is often heard: in this book, the objects almost can. All the objects have a general contextual background history and any specific known associated story is also included, all in a clear form, with cross-references to related subjects.
Packed with colour and archive photos, facts, figures, dates and statistics for easy reference, The Home Front 1939–1945 in 100 Objects is the perfect book for students, historians, collectors and general readers, enabling a clear understanding of one of Britain’s most important historical periods.
About the author:
Born in North London in 1973, AUSTIN J. RUDDY was educated at Highgate School and the University of Leicester, where he attained his degree in Archaeology. He has studied and collected the social and military history of the Second World War, particularly the British Home Front, for most of his life. Austin has featured on television and radio discussing wartime history. Austin worked at the Leicester Mercury newspaper for twenty years, where he was editor of the popular ‘Mr Leicester’ daily local history page. He currently works in Leicestershire as a freelance researcher and writer. He enjoys books, gardening, animals, old buildings, music, watching football and classic comedy (sometimes they overlap), plus vegan food and drink.
I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback ARC copy of this non-fiction book that I freely chose to review.
I have previously reviewed other books on the series, and like then, I found this to be a fantastic resource for general readers, amateur historians, for those who still remember the war (or have relatives or friends who still do), and also for people researching the topic for their own projects.
In his introduction, the author explains that when he was a young child he was surrounded by people who’ve lived through the war and they all had stories to tell. He became so interested that he started interviewing ARP (Air Raid Precautions) wardens and Home Guards about the Blitz in his London neighbourhood. He noticed that although books and documentaries gave him a general view of the period, when he could see and touch objects that had been there, he could truly feel the connection to the past, and that set him on the path of collecting. While the protagonists and their memories might no longer be with us, these objects can shine a light on the time and help provide a well-deserved memorial to the people who lived through it. The book recovers 100 of those objects, following an approximate chronological order, sharing colour pictures of all of them (and some extra images as well), and a write-up that provides ample background information of the role they played (information leaflets, propaganda posters…) and also of the people they belonged to (medals, certificates, uniforms, pictures…). The book also includes a list of abbreviations (quite useful as there were many organisations contributing to the war effort, and some changed names as well), a list of bibliography/further reading, and an index, that will prove helpful to those interested in researching the topic in more detail.
Some of the objects will be familiar to most readers, although they might not be familiar with the story or all the details behind them (food ration books, petrol ration coupons, pillboxes…), and others perhaps not so much (I hadn’t seen the identity cards or the Conscientious Objector’s Application Form, and had never seen an example of a German ID card for the residents of the Channel Islands…). I had also heard much about German propaganda leaflets dropped over Britain, but was pleased to see some examples. It is a great way to bring history to life and to help us understand a bit better those times and what life in the home front must have been like.
Realising that leaflets delivered to all the houses were the best way to communicate with the population would shock young people today; there are topics that will make readers want to read more (the debate about to what extent the Luftwaffe deliberately targeted towns and cities rather than military objectives, for example); some will remind us that the losses were not only in the battlefield (like the civilian war death certificate); there are mementos of events that have become a fundamental part of the history of some places forever (fragments of glass from one of the windows of Coventry Cathedral). We are also reminded that not everybody was pulling together either, as the looting warning posters remind us; and seeing a copy of the Beveridge Report which so many bought because it brought them hope for a better future (utopian, but some of his suggestions did come to pass, like the NHS) helps us understand what kept the population going in such tough times.
This book provides plenty of information, images, data, and, perhaps most important of all, the personal stories behind some of these objects. It is a touching and moving memorial to a time that is not as distant as some seem to think, and one we should never forget. Because, as the author states, when we talk about war heroes, many only think of generals, soldiers, pilots… and they forget that people on the home front were fighting without weapons, trying to put the fires out, disposing of the bombs, organising rescue parties, looking after the wounded… As the author summarises:
“In a war that typified human’s ability for inhumanity, these heroes of the Home Front proved that humanity was the ultimate victor.”
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is a must for people who are looking for information about the home front, especially those who prefer graphic resources; readers who want to learn more about the era in an enjoyable way; and it would make a great gift for those who lived through the war and still recall the events and the period. A great resource for writers and amateur historians as well.
Thanks to Rosie, to the author, and to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe!