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One of the strangest periods in the social history of Britain was that of the Phoney War of 1939-40, when the nation did not know quite whether it was at war or peace. E.S. Turner’s marvellous study, first published in 1961, offers a none-too-reverent account of how Britons tried to adjust themselves to the uncertainties of those days.
What was a woman to do if the air-raid siren sounded while she was curling her hair? Were the police required to open fire through jewellers’ windows at un-extinguished light bulbs? What was more patriotic – to buy War Bonds or to drink as much whisky as possible? Turner further explores the difficulties posed by blackouts to private detectives and prostitutes; the impact of the moment upon morals, and on fashions; and the bureaucracy’s blundering seizure of the nation’s spa hotels. The story is carried entertainingly all the way to the Blitz: the darkening moment at which Britain realized there was indeed ‘a war on.’
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