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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 17 October 2019

"Invasion 1940" by Peter Fleming

A historical study of Hitler's plans to invade Britain in the summer and autumn of 1940 and why they never came to pass; the author was the brother of Ian Fleming of the James Bond novels and the organiser of the planned British Maquis in Kent.

This book is wonderful is an almost endless store of anecdotes about those days, some belonging to the urban myth type which are rapidly debunked (for example, the discovery of hundreds of German corpses in the sea, clogging up some south coast harbours) and others being wonderful new tales (the Austrian mountain regiment which, upon reaching the coast, decreed that every man should practise swimming at 9 AM only to find on the second day that the sea had 'moved'). It is these anecdotes which make one wonder how it is that anyone ever wins any war:

  • It was Hitler's unpractical custom to rely upon the tete-a-tete rather than the inter service conference when dealing with his commanders-in-chief ... He intensely disliked being disagreed with.” (C 3)
  • The bigger a gun the slower its rate of fire, the shorter the life of its barrel, and the less, after every round, the accuracy of its performance.” (C 4)
  • People switched their suspicions from the strangers or half-strangers on the fringe of their community to those hitherto esteemed its backbone. In Britain the churchwarden or the local philanthropist attracted that searching scrutiny which in the First World War had been reserved for the bearded vagrant or the nocturnal collector of moths.” (C 5)
  • Many a humble Dr Watson was promoted, by the access of self-importance which comes to patriots in an hour of crisis, to the status of a Sherlock Holmes.” (C 5)
  • Flashing lights, poisoned sweets, bridges blown too soon or not at all, punctured tyres, cut telephone-lines, misdirected convoys - in whatever went amiss the hand of the fifth column was detected, never the normal workings of muddle or mischance, confusion or plain cowardice.” (C 5)
  • The removal of signposts and milestones raised a ... problem ... what should a citizen do if a motorist asked the way? The short answer was the motorist should be requested to produce his identity card. But ... everyone had been warned never, in any circumstances, to show his identity card to persons not authorised to see it.” (C 5)
  • Identity “cards were all but valueless, since no photograph was affixed to them.” (C 5)
  • Several instances occurred of motorists ... who disobeyed, or perhaps misinterpreted, the Volunteers’ signals to stop and were shot dead.” (C 5)
  • In war, as in other human affairs, it is a mistake not to be single-minded.” (C 6)
  • It is surprising that there should, throughout the summer [of 1940], have been something like 1,000,000 unemployed. The total in early September was 800,000, of whom 300,000 were women.” (C 7, footnote)
  • It was ... widely believed that the best way to render petrol not only useless but harmful to the user’s vehicles was to pout sugar in it. But ... who, on whose recommendation, would authorise the issue of a ‘supplementary’ sugar ration?” (C 7)
  • The nation’s reactions might well have proved an alloy in which much was base: conceit, stupidity, xenophobia, fecklessness and wishful thinking - these, amongst other flaws, might have been found in the gleaming brass of its self-confidence.” (C 7)
  • Less than 5,000 children between the ages of five and fifteen sailed for the Dominions, less than 2,000 for the United States.” (C 7)
  • Hotel advertisements of the period serve as a sad, gentle reminder of the sanctuaries which many elderly people of the more prosperous sort felt obliged, or were prevailed upon, to seek. Though they were sometimes called ‘funk-holes’.” (C 7)
  • Churchill regretted the restricting of church bells to the announcing of an invasion saying “I cannot help feel that anything like a serious invasion would be bound to leak out’.” (C 7)
  • When a bomb scored a direct hit on the kennels of the East Kent Hunt ... the hounds, though blown far afield by the explosion, were all recovered, unhurt, in the course of the next two days.”  (C 7)
  • The unidentified white substance floating down from the sky was thought ... to prove poisonous ... It was in point of fact gossamer, which at this season of the year is discharged by spiders while mating in mid-air.” (C 7)
  • Broadcasting House received a direct hit during air raid on 16th October 1940, seven members of the staff being killed. The announcers who were reading news bulletins at the time ... continued to do so with commendable imperturbability, and listeners were not aware until later that anything was amiss.” (C 7)
  • The days of looking forward used to pass slowly and heavily because they had merely to be lived through, for the sake of others to come, but now the days are all lived for their own sake.” (C 7)
  • The Germans used terror-propaganda “as in the revelation that German airborne troops were being provided with ‘fog-pills’, which enabled each soldier to conceal himself in a small cloud.” and electro-magnetic rays. (C 8)
  • Churchill ... remained the servant of the House of Commons. In this role he never scamped his duties, showing always a jealous regard for the rights and susceptibilities of Parliament.” (C 9)
  • On a clear day it was possible, with the help of binoculars, how to tell the time by the clock-tower in Calais from the battlements of Dover Castle.” (C 11)
  • One of the main tactical problems in jungle warfare had proved to be the extreme difficulty of accurately locating the enemy’s automatic weapons in dense cover ... A temporary officer in the RAF, who in happier Times had been enthusiastic water-diviner, claimed to be able to solve this problem ... A form of martial arts hunt-the-thimble was organised, but the machine-gun-diviner failed in every instance to locate his quarry.” (C 11)
  • One German spy was unmasked when he tried to buy cider for breakfast. Another was unable to speak English. (C 12)
  • The total available stock of rifles in the country was believed to be 70,000; these were supplemented by a miscellaneous collection of 20,000 firearms handed into police stations as the result of an appeal.” (C 13)
  • Pronunciation-tests for suspects were issued - Soothe, Wrong, Wretch, Rats, Those.” Not quite Shibboleth. (C 13)
  • At Margate it had been hoped to block the advance of German tanks through the town by means of bathing machines filled with sand.” (C 13)
  • A sixty-three-year-old Zulu whose father had led one of Cetewayo’s impis against the British ... was among the first volunteers in a coastal district of Glamorganshire where it was hoped that, if the invaders landed, his appearance on the foreshore might suggest to them a serious error in navigation had been made.” (C 13)
  • Goering alone had Hitler's ear and could perhaps have recalled him from his dreams. He made nothing of these duties and these chances. He played a lone hand, he played it badly, and he sometimes played in fancy dress.” (C 14)
  • In the beginning we tried to get the girls to leave those rooms in which ... radio telephonic communications was broadcast from the aircraft during air fighting - for the language was terrible ...The girls refused to leave their jobs and said they didn't mind the language as much as we thought. They added that it was nice to think of their being like that, all the same.” (C 15, footnote)
  • Two Mountain Divisions, raised in the highlands of Austria and Bavaria, were allotted to Army Group A in a cliff-scaling role. The commander of one of them, reaching his training area on the Channel coast, decided that his men must learn to swim ... swimming instruction would take place daily at 0900 hours. On the first day, at the appointed time, the battalions jogged smartly down to the sectors of beach allotted to them and swam or floundered according to their lights. Breasting the sand-dunes at 0900 hours on the second day, they were astonished and dismayed to find that the sea had moved; it was much further away than it had been the day before. A naval liaison officer explained this phenomenon.” (C 16)
  • Somehow it is generally a junior officer who does night-duty at the week-end.” (C 19)
  • Bisected by a river spanned by too few bridges, dotted with railway termini and criss-crossed by thousands of acres of permanent way, its subsoil laced with tunnels, drain and cables, its heart sheltering the seat of Government, its port indispensable to the island’s survival and its residential areas to the continued presence at their posts of the men and women who made the metropolis work, London offered not so much one huge unmissable target as a congeries of interrelated bull’s eyes.” (C 19)
  • On the continent, the RAF dropped leaflets in German, French and Dutch; they took the form of a phrase-book ... ‘Was that a bomb - a torpedo - a shell - a mine?’ ... ‘We are seasick. Where is the basin?’ ... ‘How much do you charge for swimming lessons?’ ... ‘See how briskly our captain burns!’ ... ‘Why is The Fuehrer not coming with us?’” (C 19)

There is humour and insight in this beautifully written study. It was a joy to read.

October 2019; 284 pages

Books about war in this blog:

My parents were members of the Readers Union Book Club. They must have had a great person to choose the books. This is one of the many I have enjoyed and reviewed in this blog. Here is a list:

  • Life with Ionides by Margaret Lane: about a man catching snakes in East Africa
  • The Golden Isthmus: the history of Panama from its discovery by Europeans
  • The Incredible Mile by Harold Elvin: the travelogue of a journey on the Trans Siberian express
  • A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble: the memoir of a Colonial Officer on the Gilbert and Ellice Islands
  • Invasion 1940 by Peter Fleming: an account of Britain's unpreparedness and preparation for a Nazi invasion
  • Bus Stop Symi by William Travis: three years lived on the sometimes less than idyllic Greek island of Symi
  • A Memoir of the Bobotes by Joyce Cary: a memoir of time spent in the Balkan Wars (before the First World War)
  • The Great Trek by Oliver Ransford: a history of the formation of the Orange Free State and Transvaal by Boer farmers trekking from the Cape Colony

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