The Longest Night by Gavin Mortimer - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

Waiting for the Bombs to Drop

The Longest Night


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 368pp £18.99

Within ten years of the end of ‘the war to end all wars’ official committees were meeting in secret to prepare for the next one. The assumption was that fighting on battlefields would be replaced by aerial combat, that London would be the enemy bombers’ target, and that it would be defenceless, for, as Prime Minister Baldwin asserted, 'the bomber will always get through’. By the late 1930s the general public shared this apocalyptic pessimism, having seen newsreels showing the full horror of air raids in Manchuria, Abyssinia, and Guernica. Bertrand Russell was not alone in believing that 'London will become one vast raving bedlam, the hospitals will be stormed, traffic will cease, the homeless will shriek for peace, the city will be a pandemonium’.

As we know, the forecast proved wrong. The air raids of the Second World War were directed at provincial cities as well as London, the Battle of Britain pilots stopped many bombers getting through, and in the nine-month-long 'first' Blitz that started in September 1940, the total number of civilians

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