It didn’t take long and usually never does…
The fact is, the blitz was not a moment of national unity, rather it exposed the longstanding class inequalities which existed throughout wartime Britain
Whenever a national crisis looms on the horizon, there’s always an unfettered rush for the media and a plethora of uninformed cretins to pull out a tin hat, wave a union flag and start gibbering about “the blitz spirit”. For our younger, and far more sensible readers, here’s a brief outline of what these morons are talking about.
During the second world war, between 1940 and 1941, Britain was subject to a relentless campaign of bombing by the Germans. This became known as ‘the blitz’ – short for ‘blitzkrieg’, the German word for an intensive military offensive intended to bring about a swift surrender or victory.
The blitz began with 57 nights of consecutive bombing in London and then spread throughout major cities and towns across the entire country. On 14 November 1940, Coventry endured an entire day of bombing which induced mass panic and virtually destroyed the entire city centre. When the blitz ended, in May 1941, 43,000 civilians had been killed, half of them in London.
Because the blitz failed to achieve Hitler’s aims, that is, bringing the country to its knees, many people like to think that the ‘blitz spirit’ was responsible. And so, whenever the country faces a challenge on a national scale, ignorant idiots like to think that all we have to do is simply endure whatever is thrown at us and we’ll pull through.
This ignores the fact that the blitz was not a moment of national unity, but an episode which exposed longstanding and deep class inequalities which existed throughout wartime Britain. It is also staggeringly toxic nostalgia; something which has been perpetuated in an attempt to rekindle some imagined history where reality is not only suspended but completely forgotten in an attempt to stupefy the masses.
The reality of the blitz was different. The government were panicked and thought that a ‘shelter mentality’ would develop if people were afforded the safety they needed in deep shelters such as the underground in London. Instead, they urged people to build flimsy, shallow ‘Anderson’ shelters in their back gardens. Bad enough, you might think, while also completely ignoring the fact that millions of people didn’t have gardens or perhaps lived in tenement buildings.
There were no such problems for the rich. Many simply moved to properties they owned in the countryside and for those who stayed in London, there was always the luxury of deep shelters which had been created in the wine cellars of luxury hotels.
Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary during the war, spent his evenings in the cellars of the Dorchester Hotel along with nine other Lords who were waited on every night by a butler serving them food and malt whisky. Ordinary people became aware of the gulf between the classes and began taking matters into their own hands.
In some places those taking refuge published their own magazines, and a network of contacts throughout London grew up. In November 1940, a conference was held and a total of 79 delegates from 50 shelters decided to form the London Underground Station and Shelterers’ Committee. They elected two socialists Harry Ratner and Alfie Bass (later to become a well-known television comedian) as secretaries. Eventually, after being put under considerable pressure from public opinion, the authorities in London made use of about 80 underground stations, sheltering 177,000 people.
So, when idiots start talking about the blitz spirit, what they actually mean, although they don’t know it, is that people made it through as a result of human decency and concern for others, rather than some imagined stiff upper lip and a psychotic tendency to welcome and endure suffering.
And those idiots are now slavering about coronavirus and how that stiff upper lip will be enough to see us through. Yet the class divide is still with us and we’ve already seen how those who have the most have trampled over everyone else to preserve that status. Witness the panic buying. People cramming tons of food into Range Rovers without a thought for those who struggle to shop for food once a week because they simply don’t have the money. And as for that stiff upper lip, what’s the story with the same people and the tons of toilet paper? The first sign of trouble and rather than their lips stiffening, their arses collapse.
Make no mistake, the vast majority of the population will get through this (continuing) coronavirus epidemic, but it won’t happen by looking through rose-tinted glasses at heaps of rubble and dead bodies. It will happen because decent, ordinary folk will do what they’ve always done – look after each other.