The dangers of the Blitz spirit
The stoicism of the British people in response to the Luftwaffe raids of 1940–41 is seen as heroic, but their defiance resulted in needless deaths, says Richard Overy
In November 1940 novelist Vera Brittain and a friend took a taxi through the ruined areas of the East End of London. On the way an air-raid alarm sounded, and a policeman stopped the taxi and warned the driver and passengers to take shelter. The taxi-man glared at the policeman with “unutterable contempt” and carried on towards Bethnal Green, with the approval of his two charges. He told them that he slept every night on the top floor of a block of flats, that had no shelter, listening to the bombs falling around him. “Unless it has me name on it, it won’t git me,” was his conclusion. Brittain thought this was typical of the fatalism expressed by Londoners in the Blitz, firm in the belief that “destiny remains unaffected by caution”. She too on occasion, at the end of a tiring day, chose to sleep in her bed oblivious to the thudding noise of the bombs and guns around her. Brittain survived, but thousands of Londoners who defied the rational impulse to shelter did not.