Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The largest geopolitical project in living memory

Over the past year I've read a number of novels set either just before or during the second world war including books by Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, John Lawton, Marek Krajewski, Hans Fallada, Carlo Lucarelli and others, along with some straight history books, but I haven't been keeping track of history itself. Today marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War and Germany's invasion of Poland (The Polish Officer by Furst does a good job of capturing the first few days as Poland desperately tries to put in place the basis for resistance knowing that it is being over-run).

Of course, I haven't pre-prepared a post, but I have been thinking about doing one based on a conversation I had with Martin Dodge last week, so I'm hastily moving it forward. At his Mapping Manchester exhibition we were talking about whether the John Ryland's library had survived the blitz intact and that led onto a discussion about bomb census maps. Martin kindly sent me on a link to a story that discussed them. I'd be really interested to take a look at them in more detail. I always remember the two old ladies who lived next door when I was growing up who used to describe going up Caldy Hill to watch Liverpool and Birkenhead docks being bombed. They were great story-tellers - you felt like you were there watching the cities burn.

The tracing below is from the Christmas raids of Dec 20-22, 1940 on the Merseyside area when 365 people died. It is designed to be overlain on a base map, hence why there are so few roads, etc. shown (much cheaper to keep a clean map and have lots of tracings). A daily tracing would be taken so that the pattern of bombing could be tracked over time.

The tracing shows the area between Bootle and Walton and plots 26 separate incidents in quite a confined area. Each incident is given a number, followed by the size and type of bomb, and the location of any unexploded ordnance. Collectively the maps reveal that by the end of the war Liverpool was the second most bombed UK city after London.

These other maps are of Brighton and Bristol.

I've been fascinated by the Second World War for a while now given it was the largest and most complex geopolitical event in modern history with many civil wars operating inside transnational wars, and political ideology explicitly reshaping territory and lives through violence. I've been trying to collect books that explains what went on different parts of the world, including some that traditionally get looked over (e.g. Aleutian Islands [the only bit of the USA occupied by the Japanese], Malta, Isle of Man, Ireland, etc) so I can have a go at mentally stitching the whole lot together.

I'll perhaps try to do something on Irish neutrality tomorrow. Ireland declared its neutrality on the 2nd Sept, the day before Britain and France declared war. It was a policy that was rigidly maintained right to the end of the war.

Lest we forget ...


Uriah Robinson said...

Rob, part of John Lawton's Second Violin deals with the internment of refugees on the Isle of Man.
Mark Mills The Information Officer is set on Malta during the war, and crime writer Dashiell Hammett part authored a book called The Battle of the Aleutians when stationed at Adak, Alaska in 1944. He wrote the captions for the photographs.

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks, Uriah. I'll add those to the 'to read' pile. The Isle of Man story is fascinating, but I haven't found a really good straightforward history book of the internment there. Brian Garfield's book - The Thousand Mile War - on the Aleutians is really excellent. Fortress Malta isn't a bad book either. I'd love to get good books about all the Baltic countries - I have gaps there.

Dorte H said...

Off topic, but you might like to hear that my son ran off with The Rule Book a few days ago. He told me tonight that he enjoyed it very much, and promised to bring it back soon so his dad can read it.