Blitz Street

November 13, 2009

(Cross posted to Britain at War)

I’m always wary of jumping on the bandwagon and criticizing TV shows based on the marketing – and if the number of newspapers who picked this up is anything to go by, it’s been a very successful press release… but it’s hard not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the news that Channel 4’s 2010 season of ‘factual’ programmes will include a ‘science-history’ programme, ‘Blitz Street’:

To mark the 70th anniversary of this pivotal event in British history, Tony Robinson presents a four-part science and history series which gives just a flavour of what it must have been like to live under such constant bombardment, and explores, crucially, why the Blitz failed.

The series – coming to Channel 4 in early 2010 – constructs a typical row of terraced houses on a military base. With the help of Ministry of Defence scientists, the street is subjected to a range of real large-scale high explosives and incendiaries, similar to those used by the Luftwaffe. Using a wide range of scientific sensors and gauges, there are precise measurements of the blast waves and dangerous after effects of flying shrapnel.

The series follows the nightly cat and mouse battles that took place between the Luftwaffe in the air and Britain’s ground defences, with barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns. Also tested are the internal Morrison and garden Anderson shelters.

Blitz Street explores the profound psychological phenomenon that was the ‘Blitz Spirit’. A large number of eye-witnesses, many of them speaking for the first time, recount their amazing stories of survival. Read the rest of this entry »

Serving Soldier

November 3, 2009

Serving Soldier is a new online collection drawing on the holdings of the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at Kings College London, and concentrating on the lives of British soldiers from the 1880s to the outbreak of the Second World War. New material is still being added to the site, but what’s there already looks useful and interesting, including letters home from a young Alan Brooke about his life as a junior officer in India, a good quality selection of British First World War posters, and much ephemera relating to life in and out of barracks at the start of the twentieth century.

Death in Britain in the Second World War at the IHR

November 2, 2009

Just over a week ago, I gave a paper on Death in Britain in the Second World War at the Institute of Historical Research Military History seminar. Apart from falling victim to the Institute’s habit of wrapping the laptop security cable around the speaker’s chair (thus forming a highly effective booby-trap that toppled me like a felled tree and nearly provided the most ironic end for a historian since Robert Darnton was massacred by those cats), it went pretty well. Here are some reflections. Read the rest of this entry »

John Ramsden

October 21, 2009

Professor John Ramsden, my colleague at QMUL until his retirement last year, died a few days ago. Peter Hennessy’s obituary from the Guardian captures much of John and in no way overstates his achievements. John had first shown the remarkable academic generosity that he displayed to me throughout the time I knew him when he invited me to take part, as a graduate student, in a conference he was organizing on The Great War TV series. When I later got a job at QM, he was appointed to be my mentor during my probationary period, a job he fulfilled with equally balanced rigour and charm. His plainspokenness was of real value in guiding a novice through some of the tricks of the trade. As Professor Hennessy points out, John showed his respect for people by always speaking honestly. He did me great service, both intellectually and in terms of personal confidence, by reading and commenting on the manuscript of my book before publication. Afterwards, he said to me: ‘It’s a really good read Dan, but I do think it’s a shame that your generation hasn’t really been taught how to write.’ There’s no way in words of conveying why that generated so much affection within me. On one of the student feedback forms from the First World War course we taught together, an anonymous undergraduate wrote ‘John Ramsden: if Carlsberg made lecturers’. That got it absolutely right; he will be much missed.