The Air Raid Book Club

Written by Annie Lyons
Review by Edward James

At one level this is another feel-good book about the resilience of the British people during the wartime bombardment, not just the Blitz of 1940-41 but also the V-bomb raids of 1944-5.  But it is also the story of a middle-aged childless widow, Gertie Bingham, who takes in a teenage German-Jewish refugee, Hedy, who arrives on one of the Kindertransporten.  At first the relationship is difficult, but they grow together running Gertie’s bookshop and developing its outreach activities, such as the Air Raid Book Club (a shelter stocked with books).

Unusually, the story is set in a middle-class suburb, not the iconic East End.  Nor does it shirk the fact that the Kindertransporten brought only unaccompanied children, not because the Nazis would not let the parents leave, but because the British authorities would not give them visas.  Children were OK because they were expected to rejoin their parents after the war.

There is a tense episode when Hedy is trapped in the Anderson shelter in the garden beneath the rubble of the bombed house.  The rescue team have great difficulty in prising open the jammed steel door to the shelter.  Thank goodness actual Andersons did not have doors but freestanding blast walls, or I would not be alive to write this review!

A very heart-warming celebration of the wartime spirit without any black marketeers, deserters or malingerers.