On September 7, 1940, the Blitz began. The strategic bombing of London, by over one thousand planes on that night alone, was recognised at the time as being a direct measure to break the country's resistance, 'softening' Britain's shores for the planned Operation Sealion. It was a day long feared and anticipated, but the physical, political and personal shockwaves it sent through the British population outstripped all expectations."The First Day of the Blitz" tells of the enormous impact that this new terror from the skies had on the British people and the course of the war. From bureaucratic preparations, massively underestimating the decimation of housing, through the actual bombs dropped in the later afternoon and early evening, to the individual, collective and official responses, Peter Stansky argues that the first twelve hours of bombing determined much of the future of Britain. Not only was the country's ultimate victory over Germany in evidence; so too was the need for a transformation of British society. The wave of terror designed to demolish morale quite literally put into question what the British people were made of.The fact and idea of their stoicism and courage was fused into myth; with the intense feeling of camaraderie came a new consciousness of national identity, which paved the way towards the New Jerusalem of Beveridge and the 1945 Labour victory.
The bombardment that so radically altered the physical face of London also changed the whole conception of what it meant - and means - to be 'British'.Weaving together a wide range of rich archival sources, among them newspaper reports, military documents, literary responses and unpublished testimonies, Peter Stansky gives a fascinating insight into the Blitz and a compelling analysis of what it signifies. It is an incisive account of British society at the very point of its transformation, and a timely examination of the first impact of terror in its modern form. We still live in the shadow of 'Black Saturday'; most relevantly to our concerns today, both the effectiveness of terror and its ultimate failure are made powerfully clear.
Peter Stansky is Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, Emeritus at Stanford University. He is the author of numerous distinguished works in the field of modern British social, cultural and political history, including Sassoon (Yale 2003).