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Blitz: The Story of December 29, 1940

by Margaret Gaskin

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1334149,559 (3.88)4
A thrilling account of 'the second great fire of London'.



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The book is subtitled "The Story of December 29, 1940" but it takes Margaret Gaskin quite a little while to get to the point as she wanders off on a number of tangents. Once she gets to the actual attack, however, the book is riveting and I particularly liked this lovely bit of writing:

"...centuries of history were peeling off the stone walls in layers, spinning ancient sacred sites back into their history. At All Hallows Barking, the work of Toc H and the Great War that had given birth to it passed away in a moment, swiftly followed by Victorian prosperity and expensive woodwork. For tonight, its magnificently carved stone replacement [for William Penn's baptismal font] was cracking and crumbling in the intense heat. The Jacobean pulpit was burning, too, perhaps with a wisp of words rising amid the smoke: ...when wasteful war shall statues overturn, and broils root out the work of masonry...

Now Dissenters and Church of England alike disappeared into nothingness and England became Catholic again. The nuns of Barking Abbey who gave the church its name returned - and left again as Fire drove Time back before it. Back beyond the limits of parish register and brass plaque and stone effigy. Back beyond the Conquest and into ages of unsuspected antiquity. Norman construction collapsed to reveal hidden remains of the first church that Saxon piety had built here, using remnants of old Londinium - some of them still bearing the scorch-marks of Boudicca's fire - left behind by the retreating Romans. Beyond whom there was nothing; nothing but grass, and wildflowers, a shadowy Druid or two, and the ever-flowing Thames."

Truly beautiful, evocative writing!

I wondered how she would end it and that was resolved by writing about Churchill's funeral in 1965. I liked that.

The book is worth the time it takes to read. ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
“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. ( )
  theduckthief | Apr 28, 2013 |
Blitz tells the story of one night during WW II when, as Britain stood alone, central London endured a massive fire bombing at the hands of the Germans. The book disclosers -- new to me -- that many business, churches, and government establishments in central London were protected at night by citizen, employee, and volunteer fire watchers whose responsibility it was to watch for incendiary bombs and snuff them out with sand or water sprayed by manual pumps from buckets of water. Many of these brave men and women spent their days working in an office and their nights patrolling their place of employment. Many gave their lives. The book focuses on the efforts to protect St Paul's Cathedral. The photograph of that great church surrounded by smoke and flame became the symbol of British resistance. Churchill's role in that resistance was prominent but he gave the credit to the British spirit. "It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the Globe that had the lion heart," the PM said. "I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar."
  spec1963 | Jan 2, 2007 |
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