Best Blitz Books

LEE RUDDIN recommends three books about the bombing raids on Merseyside during World War Two.

A service of remembrance was held at Liverpool Cathedral on 3 May to commemorate the near-4,000 killed across Merseyside by Nazi bombers between the years 1940-1942. The very same day, in an effort to provide a memorable service to Merseysiders, the World Museum published what is believed to be the first exclusively online exhibition by National Museums Liverpool. Given that many prefer to learn via more traditional means, however, I have listed some recommended reading surrounding raids of the Anglican and (what it was then called) Liverpool Museum 75 years ago. The below three titles are works that – if my memory serves me correctly – proved most enlightening when researching the “Blitz”, an abbreviation of the German word “blitzkrieg” meaning “lightning war”:

The Blitz: The British Under Attack (2010) by Juliet GardinerGardiner Book Cover

Straight in at number one is what I consider to be Juliet Gardiner’s magnum opus: The Blitz. While it may surprise some to see a more general text occupy top slot, Merseyside is specifically – though not surprisingly – covered at length by the former editor of History Today. By shining a light on the dark plight of those on Merseyside Gardiner frees herself of the accusation, thrown at the Ministry of Information (MoI) at the time by those outside the Metropole, that attention of the latter comes at the expense of the former. It is her powerful prose, much more than the fact the volume is based on first-hand testimony, though, which renders it second to none. I say this not least because readers can near-enough smell the burning timber and taste the lung-filling dust through Gardiner’s evocative description of the remorseless infernos that erupted from the relentless pounding Merseyside received.

Merseyside’s Secret Blitz Diary: Liverpool at War (2005) by Arthur Johnson

Coming a close – extremely close – second is Arthur Johnson’s Merseyside’s Secret Blitz Diary. As the title suggests, this is a revelatory book about wartime Merseyside – one that students and scholars of (local) history alike will find particularly revealing. Contemporary news reports quickly turned sterile in the age of the censor, as the aforementioned are undoubtedly all too aware from their archival research, yet herein they can read the uncensored reports of the Liverpool Echo Blitz Correspondent. Notwithstanding a ban on retaining information pertaining to what the MoI nonchalantly referred to as “incidents”, the thirty-something-year-old Johnson would tap out alternative reports on a nightly basis which were filed away only to gather dust. That was, however, until his son – Arthur Johnson Jnr. – published the diary in its original format on 9 August 2005, 65 years to the day after the first Merseysider (Johanna Mandale) was killed in the region (specifically Prenton).

Merseyside Blitzed (2012) by Neil Holmes

The third title on my list is Neil Holmes’s second book which should, it is no exaggeration to say, be first choice for those wanting a pictorial history. A companion to Liverpool Blitzed: Seventy Years On (2011), which illustrates how the Luftwaffe changed the face of the city centre, Merseyside Blitzed succeeds in its attempt to complete the whole story of the county. The faces of major towns on both banks of the River Mersey, namely Wallasey, Birkenhead and Bootle, were also scarred during the raids yet this was largely overlooked – pictorially-speaking – until the Wirralian’s wonderful work. Thanks to the author’s painstaking research, in the local archives collating wartime images and at local sites taking photographs, though, readers are able to compare the old with the new and appreciate as never before today’s “after” with yesterday’s “before”. The plight of Merseysiders is no more a footnote to that of Liverpudlians.

The Blitz (Di)spirit, another article by Lee Ruddin on the Merseyside bombing raids, is also on this website. You can read it by clicking HERE.