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  1. There are masses of books about the Blitz, Churchill and WWII in general but not like this one. The main focus here is the first year of Churchill's leadership, jumps quickly to The American's entering the war and then ends. What makes this book so different is that Larson is a master storyteller of non fiction and makes it read like a thriller. He says in the acknowledgements that he's always been fascinated by how people like Churchill managed to balance desperate ad dire affairs of state with the normal problems of daily life so much of the book is taken up with the sort of thing that normally gets left out of serious history books such as his private secretary's unrequited love affair, the 17 year old Mary Churchill's flirtations with RAF officers and her later engagement, much disapproved of by her parents. Some readers might find all this trival, I love it, I always want to know about the people and it makes the reality of what it must have been like living then so very real: you did live for the moment and you understand why reactuions that would seem awful in hindsight - being irritated by the delay caused a bomb crater rather than worrying about who might have been hurt became natural. Larson splits the narrative between England and Germany on day by day basis and doesn't foreshadow anything. We might know what happened in the big picture, but Goring, Churchill, Hitler, Max Beaverbrook et all didn't. The reader lives in their present as events unfold, and sometimes gets taken as much by surprise as the main protagonists were. I did learn some new facts about the war but the main thing I've really taken from the book is a sense of what it must have been like to live then. An excellent read.
  2. We looked to the skies, where battle raged, young men flying high, ‘burning blue’ and stealing time. Cast as heroes they soared and sailed, weaved and wept, and we looked to the skies, in fear and dread, as each night falls fire, and fuels our burning ire. Each night brings death and we rise once more taller than before. In this fourth book on the history of WW2 Churchill starts in the summer of 1940 with the Battle of Britain. This wasn’t just an aerial contest between modern day gladiators; the Battle of Britain was the struggle for the hearts and minds of the British people. As the ‘few’ fought in the skies above, the bomb blasted citizens fought fire and fear night after night. Rising each morning to rubble and ruin. Homeless, loved ones lost, they would pick their way through the remains and return to their posts. At work for nine and time for tea, hiding their drowning in a sea of bravery. Amongst all the destroyed and decaying buildings there was often the threat of unexploded bombs. Dealing with these was obviously highly dangerous but sometimes there was a lighter side. One such occasion the Captain was down the pit with the bomb, the others in the party taking cover a safe distance away when the Captain cries out demanding to be drawn up. After rushing to his rescue and dragging him to safety, the team demands to know what was wrong. “My God,” he said, “there was a rat.” In the beginning bomb disposal was an inexact science and carried out by incredibly brave people. One example being ‘The Earl of Suffolk, his lady private secretary, and his rather aged chauffeur.’ They disabled 34 bombs – the 35th killed them all! Britain stood firm and eventually Hitler turned his gaze to a bigger prize and began his attack on Russia. Bringing us a new though always belligerent ally. The book now covers the reinforcing of Malta, Italy’s attack on Greece, our desert battles against the Italian troops and our subsequent victory in Egypt, to the problem of paying for the war. We ‘entered the war with about 4,500 million in dollars or in gold and in U.S. investments that could be turned into dollars.’ But the funds were running out and at one point ‘even if we divested ourselves of all our gold and foreign assets, we could not pay for half we had ordered’ and so began President Roosevelt’s solution. Lend-Lease. America of course was not yet in the war and so The President ‘sold’ Lend-Lease to the American people and their government as Of course the wiser heads in America knew that war was heading their way and the best immediate defence of the ‘United States is the success of Great Britain defending itself’. So Lend-Lease was in a way self serving, the best way to stop a fire spreading to your own back garden is to let some else stop it in their garden. But it saved us. Churchill once more skilfully takes us through the demands of power, the decisions and the results of those decisions. How sometimes when we look back at ‘all these worries’ it turns out just like a man once said, ‘had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.’ For which we should all be extremely glad.
  3. From the distant safety of our armchairs the war is a good story, full of courage and duplicity, horror and humanity. Fortitude and freedom went hand in hand as we, as a nation, stood fast, resilient and ready to defend our land. But close up, in the flesh, the burning, dying, hungry flesh. The uncertainty. The stripped away of all that mattered and standing bereft, left alone, our allies overthrown. Would we want to leave our armchairs, our comfy light filled rooms and walk towards that blackout gloom? To live each day, with that uncertainty? This, the first book of the second volume sees the formation of the National Coalition. Churchill as Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury, Minister of Defence, and Leader of the House of Commons. He was ably supported by among others Clement Atlee, Lord Halifax, Anthony Eden, Ernest Bevin and Lord Beaverbrook. On Monday May 13th 1940 Churchill addresses the House of Commons. And on to the Battle of France, two weeks of German lightning war. Destruction, death, defeat and retreat. To Dunkirk, over 330,000 troops rescued by a flotilla of naval and civilian sea craft. Churchill called this a ‘miracle of deliverance’ but warned Followed by the political manoeuvres of the British and French Governments prior to the subsequent Fall of France. On one occasion, Churchill’s fourth journey to France, he attended a meeting involving Reynaud, Petain and de Gaulle held in a Chateau which Till Britain stands alone and the final chapter deals with the extensive preparations the Germans were making for Operation Sea Lion, their planned invasion of Britain.
  4. War finally arrives, it comes to stay, old baggage and new conflicts packed and waiting it knocks on the door and invites itself in. With it comes rationing and trepidation, false alarms and a race to arms, loss of liberty and a sense of fear and escape and anticipation. Preparations are laid, fortifications secured, a home front braced, volunteering and commandeering. Plans are made, time is spent in urgent talk, corridors of power rustle with haste and nothing is left to waste. In this second book of his history of the war Churchill takes us from the attack on Poland by Germany to the fall of Norway and the invasion of Holland and Belgium. Leading to the resignation of Chamberlain. Once more Churchill deftly leads on the twisting path of war. His re-instatement as head of the admiralty and a place in the war cabinet, our merchant shipping losses threatening supplies of food and the raw materials urgently needed for our war industries, the British Expeditionary Force in France, to the battle for Norway which included a British brigade and its ancillary troops led by a Major General Mackesy. His instructions included ‘among their appendices the following reference to bombardment:’ Norway eventually fell to the Germans but in gaining it they suffered the ruin of their navy seriously affecting Hitler’s plans for the invasion of Britain. On the morning of the 10th of May 1940 the Germans invaded Holland and Belgium. The labour leaders made it clear to Chamberlain that a National Government was required and that he would not have their support. By 6pm that day Churchill was Prime Minister of the Coalition Government. As this book ends he leaves us with a paragraph which sums up his sense of duty and readiness for the tasks ahead.
  5. This is the first book in Churchill’s history of the Second World War, a work of six volumes with two books to a volume. I was lucky enough to receive these volumes free from the Folio Society they are handsomely bound with many photographs and maps throughout. They sat on my shelves for many a year, trepidation countering my desire to read fearing a dry, fact laden account of troops and tank numbers. Battles laboured and the minutiae of meetings detailed. Instead a vibrant, erudite narrative unfolds the prelude to this global slaughter. In the aftermath of the 1914 - 18 war, the ‘Victors’ sowed the seeds of the next with their greed and lust for revenge. Financial chaos ensued feeding unrest in Germany and providing a breeding ground for Hitler and his Nazi Party. The book takes us from the ‘Follies of the Victors’ in 1919, through the depression and the rise of Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, the rearmament of Germany and the subsequent march of Nazism through Austria and Czechoslovakia to the outbreak of the war on the third of September 1939. Churchill has been criticised by some modern historians for telling us his side of the story. Well if I had been Churchill and brought Britain through it’s toughest ever challenge I think I’d want to tell the story from my own perspective as well. All historians tell history from their own viewpoint, they decide what to tell us, or more importantly what to leave out. Churchill, to his credit, provides us with the documents of the time, copies of minutes, speeches made in Parliament and written accounts by his contemporary’s. He weaves these official documents into the story of the war bringing to life the planning and progress of the operations. He shows modern historians the way by bringing in personal information of those involved to create a ‘human interest’ element. Most of us are aware of the great speeches, the ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches…..’ and ‘Never before in the field of human conflict was so much owed……’ as examples of his colossal command of the English language. Well here he blends his gift as a wordsmith with his personal knowledge of the war to produce an engaging and informative history.
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