BOOK REViEW: Waiting For Hitler, Midge Gillies

This was a fun and easy read.

Using several strands of private historical narrative – from ordinary British folk, such as two sisters in Norfolk, or Scots artillery man Frank O’Brien, and members of the Home Guard, etc, to resident ‘aliens’, such as Italian Decio Anzani, or the German Jewish Baruchs – Midge Gillies weaves a tapestry of warmly human firsthand accounts around the theme of ‘Waiting For Hitler’, or the invasion scare of 1940.

It was rather nice that there were quite a few stories relating to areas I know, mostly in East Anglia (and even London), such as Snettisham, and Hauxton. It turns out that Gillies is local – she lives in Ely! – so that might account for the unusual number of Anglian anecdotes!

A lot of what one reads here makes Dad’s Army look worryingly like documentary history, as opposed to loving satire. England, esp. after the ‘heroic’ debacle of Dunkirk, was not well prepared! And the way we treated ‘enemy aliens’ is revealed to be shockingly heavy-handed and unjust.

It’s hard to credit the impact an imminent Nazi invasion really must have had. Though this book does an admirable job of trying to convey the range of feelings, from ennui to all out panic, and from the unifying ‘we’re all in it together’ to the divisive paranoia around fifth columnists.

Perhaps because we know the feared invasion never came, even when one does read these accounts, it can all seem to partake of that ‘cosy rosy memories of WWII’ nostalgia Britain seems so obsesssed with!

Still, all told I found this an enjoyable and compelling read, and can definitely recommend it.

PS – Thanks, Chris, for gifting me this on my recent b’day. T’was a good read!

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