CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 8. . . .October 23, 2009
The "Blitz", as the "historical note" at the end of the book explains, is short for Blitzkrieg, or Lightening war, and is the name given to the months following Sept 7th, 1940, when Hitler hammered London every night with bombs of every type and destructive capability. As Edie details in her diary, ordinary life was pretty much suspended as Londoners spent night after night in air-raid shelters, underground Tube stations, and Anderson shelters. These last were tin boxes buried in back gardens, thought to be bomb-proof, and certainly uniformly damp, cold, and claustrophobic. Up until 1941, the German bombardment had killed more British civilians than soldiers on the Western Front.
It is not surprising that parents were torn between wanting their children near them, in spite of the danger and the lack of organization in their lives, and sending them to somewhere in the country where they would be "safe." Schools were closed, and any gatherings were discouraged; there was nothing for children to do but get into trouble, if they were so inclined. Edie's younger brother is very much inclined towards trouble, and when he gets caught shoplifting, their parents decide to send both of them into the Welsh countryside where at least they can go to school and have some semblance of a normal life. The children stick it for a week. Bullying at school and being billeted with an unpleasant, demanding couple has them running away, back to London and the bombs as a much better alternative. No doubt some of the evacuees had very positive experiences and loved being out of London, but it stands to reason that not all of them did.
The bombing went on. London burned; people died. It's all there, seen through the observant eyes of a 12-year-old girl: the young men joining up, or working for the war in some other capacity (Edie thought her brother would be safe, maintaining airplanes for the Battle of Britain, until the runway was bombed), older men like her father fighting fires night after night, women getting jobs outside the home for the first time in their lives and tasting the freedom that these jobs gave them. Death and destruction everywhere. Vince Cross keeps the narrative voice authentically Edie's, except occasionally when he descends into uncharacteristic purple prose: "the shells of at least two churches built by Sir Christopher Wren stood out clearly against the black sky, lit from inside like torches as the flames burnt away three hundred years of history." Mostly Edie talks of everyday things, bringing out the horror of the times through the very prosaic details of rationing, cold, boredom, and work. From these little things, the reader gets a real feeling for the situation these ordinary people faced.
No family was untouched by tragedy, including Edie's. In fact, the Bensons are as typical a family as one could find, and Edie's diary produces a microcosm of social history in fictional form that sheds a strong light on the greater and lesser events that made up life in London at the time.
Mary Thomas works in an elementary school library in Winnipeg, MB, but remembers a selection in her Grade 8 reader telling much this same story (and remembers it bringing up goosebumps then, as now).
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.