19 July 2022
A new book called The Battle of Britain: A Visual History will be released to mark Battle of Britain Day.
The Battle of Britain reached a peak on 15 September 1940, when aerial combat in the skies over southern Britain was at its most intense. That key date, which marked the turning point in Nazi Germany’s attempt to destroy Britain’s aerial defences, is now commemorated as Battle of Britain Day. This year, Imperial War Museums marks the anniversary with a comprehensive and authoritative new visual history, telling the story of how Britain stood up to aerial attack by an implacable foe and in so doing managed to turn the tide of the World War II.
Written by IWM’s Head of Documents and Sound, Anthony Richards, (author of bestselling Visual Histories D-Day and Normandy and The Somme as well as the critically acclaimed Words of War) this highly illustrated book brings together multiple elements of IWM’s collection – images, film, artefacts and written accounts, many of which have rarely been seen before by the public – to explore one of the most testing periods in Britain’s history and the stories of the individuals who witnessed it all, on the ground as well as in the skies.
The Battle of Britain: A Visual History’s narrative draws on a huge number of extracts from letters, diaries, memoirs and oral history testimonies, telling the story not only of the battle between RAF Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe, but the larger implications of the fight: the potential German invasion of Britain, the relentless bombing of towns and cities during the Blitz, and the country’s attempts to protect itself from attack through civil defence.
The accounts, drawn from IWM’s unparalleled museum archives, also serve to shatter some of the myths about Britain standing alone during this period of the fighting and to highlight the combined efforts of Allied forces and the British Empire. Some of the personal stories highlighted include that of Ludwik Martel, one of nearly 10,000 pilots in the Polish Air Force who fled Poland when it was invaded and came to fly from British soil, and George Unwin, a flying ace who was part of RAF Duxford’s No.19 Squadron and one of the first pilots to fly the Supermarine Spitfire.
Just as important to the story of the battle, too, are the accounts of those on the ground who provide an emotional heartbeat to the story of how the battle unfolded and shaped the course of a much bigger global war. Memoir extracts include those of John Sweetland, a 14-year-old schoolboy from London who describes the Blitz in very vivid terms, and Edith Heap, a WAAF whose RAF pilot fiancée was tragically killed in action while she was listening in on the battle’s wireless traffic in the squadron’s operations room.
Author Anthony Richards, Head of Documents and Sound at IWM, said, “Understanding the experiences of people who lived through the Battle of Britain – not just those who fought and flew, but those for whom it shaped their everyday lives and fears – is key to understanding the spirit of Britain and its Allies during the war. It’s been an honour to discover so many and such diverse accounts in IWM’s archives, which tell the story of the Battle of Britain through images, words and memories. I hope readers will enjoy discovering them in this book.”
- The Battle of Britain: A Visual History
- Anthony Richards
- Published 8 September 2022
- ISBN: 9781912423514
- Price: £25
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