David McGrory’s first instalment about Coventry’s history of war started with Coventry’s Blitz. I know it’s an old cliché to say that a history book is ‘well-researched’, ‘well-written’ and ‘in-depth’, but the fact is, this is. And not just all three of those things, but it’s humorous and entertaining, at times making me giggle and smile, as well as human. It’s not a given that history books takes on a personality just because they are written about a person or a point in time, but what McGrory does really well is give his books character, mostly with the help of personal family anecdotes, stories of locals and his informal, light-hearted approach to writing.
His inclusion of some truly fantastic images add to this effect ten-fold, and sometimes I found myself skipping text just to intensely study them, trying to work out where it was taken (if no information was given) and what that places looks like now; what are the people in them thinking about; what’s happened to them; and the one question that strikes me most is, why are they smiling? I often wonder what people thought about during the war. Was that it for 6 years? Or was life more normal than we expect it to be?
“For many, the blitz in Coventry is thought of as being the night of 14/15 November 1940.”
As a Southerner who since 2009 believes herself to be a true Coventrian, I can say that for many, the effects of German attention during the blitz is still ever present. A walk through the city centre, passed the Cathedral, the Herbert Gallery, War Memorial Park, they all seem to hold this secret of times gone by – that of course every knows and hasn’t forgotten.
As someone so enchanted by history and the effects of war, moving to Coventry for University did nothing but increase my fascination, and in turn make me fall in love with the city. When one single place where you have lived, and thrived, has the ability to inspire you and help shape the person you have become, you can’t help but find more meaning in this book. It makes it a lot more personal.
When you think of the state of the world as it is now; wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and such, it’s horrific and shocking, but it feels a bit detached. Perhaps the ever increasing media reports make us just that bit more desensitised to it all. But when something has happened ‘at home’ and you’re reminded of it in a book such as this, it does truly bring it home, making it that more real. McGrory does that. He brings him home and makes us remember.
So in short, I recommend this to anyone who lives in Coventry. It’s not just a history book. It’s an incredible tribute to the city and the people in it. To others, the outsiders, perhaps it is just a history book, documenting events and lives and destruction. But to me, it’s a very carefully written documentation of destruction. By chronologically describing the events, it somehow tells a more harrowing tale, like when fiction builds up to the climax.
This is a terrific book that highlights how Coventry is saturated in a rich and colourful history.
And it kind of leaves you feeling, what if? What if it all happened again? How on earth would we cope as well as the people of 1940s Britain?
Images have been extracted from Coventry’s Blitz and used with the permission of the publisher.