As an Anglophile, I have always admired how imperturbable the English are in times of intense stress – such as war. This is a front, of course, but a damned good way to carry on as far as I am concerned. Last year, when I was going through my cancer treatment, my sister gave me a reproduction of a British Government poster which was printed secretly and meant to be plastered in rail stations and other public places should the Germans invade Great Britain. The Germans didn’t invade because of the valor of the RAF and the Royal Navy and after the war the posters were all pulped except for a few. A London shopkeeper found one and reproduced it and has sold tens of thousands. In white letters on a red background are the words: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” A motto for all of life I should think.
In this intermittent feature, The Imperturbable English, I will quote or write about an incident taken from a favorite book, which I will then review. I’ll begin with one of the best books on London during World War Two: London at War by Philip Ziegler.
Early in the war, when asked if the Germans would invade England, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, responded: “Invasion? That would be a great bore.”
“On 15 October 1940, a German bomb hit the Music Library of the BBC which was close by the broadcasting studios. Bruce Belfrage, the news reader, paused for a moment to blow the dust off his script then resumed reading the news.”
“When the officers of the Home Publicity Division met to discuss action to counteract panic resulting from air raids, Lady Grigg said that the most comforting thing – at least where women were concerned – was to have a cup of tea and get together to talk things over. This was agreed to be to be a most valuable suggestion.”
Philip Ziegler, who wrote London At War, does something many authors attempt but few accomplish – capture the time and place about which their book is written. The author does this in a way that gives us both an understanding of what was taking place and a strong feel for the emotional aspect. In doing so, he brings World War Two London alive. I give this book four stars and recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how the people of one of the greatest cities in the world lived through the German bombing of their city and the war itself.