Reporting the Blitz – News from Home Front Communities

Stuart Hylton (The History Press, 2012) 250 mm x 170 mm, flexiback, 223pp.

Reading author Stuart Hylton is a freelance writer and local historian whose works will be familiar to many readers of The Historian. He has written several books dealing with the Home Front 1939-45, and this new book demonstrates again Hylton’s considerable knowledge of the period.

Drawing heavily on contemporary advertisements, public notices and newspaper clippings to illustrate his text, he takes the reader on a journey through the many aspects of British home front life during the second war – as it was seen and reported at the time by those experiencing it. Starting with the early days of the Phoney War, evacuation and blackout the reader is then taken through many facets of life as it was lived under onerous and restrictive conditions. Entertainment, food, rationing, salvage, make do and mend, fashion, transport and fashion are all examined. Throughout these chapters the author shows how the British coped (in the main) with shortages, rationing and restrictions on personal freedom with ingenuity, stoicism and humour. However his generally light touch in dealing with these topics is punctuated by the darker side of life in the untimely night deaths caused by blackout, the black markets, and occasions of unfair rationing distribution, moral decline and social divisions. On the other hand, reading newspaper reports of magistrates’ proceedings, it is startling to find the rigour with which even the smallest breach of regulations (no matter how innocently caused) was pursued.

The last three chapters of Hylton’s book are concerned with class division, attitudes towards our Russian and American allies, and the nation’s war aims. To a 21st century reader the class divisions existing in this period challenge our own perceptions of one nation united and equal in the common struggle. Attitudes to our allies were understandably mixed, but the chapter on our war aims of the time are disturbing, by their absence at the start of hostilities and muddled thinking by their end.

This book is purely social history, and even then is not specific to Reading or Berkshire. Nevertheless, for any family historian who wants to understand how people lived and thought during this critical period of the 20th century it is an excellent guide. The book is also well researched and written, and highly readable engaging the interest of the reader throughout.

Tony Roberts

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