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Few historical images are more powerful than those of wartime London. Having survived a constant barrage of German bombs, the city is remembered as an island of courage and defiance. These wartime images are still in use today to support a wide variety of political viewpoints. But how well do such descriptions match the memories of those who survived the blitz?

Jean Freedman interviewed more than fifty people who remember London during the war, focusing on under-represented groups, including women, Jews, and working-class citizens. In addition she examined original propaganda, secret government documents, wartime diaries, and postwar memoirs. Of particular significance to Freedman were the contemporary music, theater, film, speeches, and radio drama used by the British government to shape public opinion and impart political messages. Such bits of everyday life are mentioned in virtually every civilian’s experience of wartime London but their interpretations of them often clashed with their government’s intentions.

By exploring the differences between wartime documentation and postwar memory, oral and written artifacts, and the voices of the powerful and the obscure, Freedman illuminates the complex interactions between myth and history. She concludes that there are as many interpretations of what really happened during Britain’s finest hour as there are people who remember it.

Written with zest and commitment and will stimulate discussion. -- Albion

A finely balanced narrative that broadens and complicates but does not essentially change the long-time view that people, on the whole, behaved well during that testing time. -- Canadian Literature

Freedman compares postwar memory with a variety of wartime documents (e.g., BBC broadcasts; Ministry of Information memoranda; and film, diaries, and music) to analyze the relationship between myth and history in regard to London during WW II. -- Choice

An excellent book. . . . Shows that history and memory are essential if we are to let those whispers be heard. -- Journal of Indian Folkloristics

Adopts a fresh approach to one of the central myths of twentieth-century British history. -- Keith Robbins

Freedman successfully abandons the view of a united and heroic wartime London without creating an opposing viewpoint that would be equally flawed. -- Library Journal

A valuable addition to our understanding of wartime Britain. . . . Freedman brings to life the experiences of frequently ignored groups. -- Southern Historian

Builds up a colourful and eclectic picture of wartime life. -- Twentieth-Century British History

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






World War II, Personal narratives, London (England)


European History

Whistling in the Dark: Memory and Culture in Wartime London
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