Everywhere there is activity: soldiers on the move, women working on ‘munitions’ and on the land, children evacuated to the far countryside, allied troops billeted in unlikely places, people camping between the rails of the underground. And, in contrast, the nightly blackout, long hours of factory work, queuing for food, petrol rationing, austerity, while, over all, lies the threat of air raids. Thank heaven, then, for the reassuring sound of the radio, with its diet of calm, familiar newsreaders and cheery comedy shows like ITMA – and the cinema, which offers, for a fleeting hour or so, an escape into Hollywood make-believe.
Yes, these are the anxious days of the Second World War, during which, however, most people dare to retain the cautious hope of a happy outcome. Meanwhile the direction and character of everyone’s life will be drastically altered by the dramatic events of these six years. Yet the pattern formed by war does not end abruptly in 1945. Rationing and shortages persist, sometimes more acutely than before, while because of national service and the continuing presence of US forces, the country still resembles a uniformed nation at war. Much of the same spirit is as alive and well at the Festival of Britain as it was at the Battle of Britain.
It is only around 1953 that life begins to change – with the consumer boom, the growing use of the motor car and much more freedom of choice, in conduct, as well as in the shops. With the New Look, too, femininity returns. The period really ends on the ceremonial high note of the Coronation of young Queen Elizabeth II when, suddenly, half the nation are crowded round five million tiny flickering screens.
Here is a portrait of that never-to-be-forgotten phase in British social history, one through which nearly 15 million of our population bravely lived. This beautiful and absorbing book recalls these nostalgic times in 80 illuminating photographs, while Eric Midwinter tells the domestic tale of a nation at one with itself – its citizens and country folk co-operating to win the war and secure the peace.
An ideal gift for all those who recollect or wish to learn about those remarkable days.
Eric Midwinter is Visiting Professor of Education at the University of Exeter and Programme Director of the International Longevity Centre, UK. He is co-founder of the University of the Third Age and has been awarded an OBE.