Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNumérosvol. 25, n°2Comptes rendus/ReviewsPeter Adey, David J. Cox, Barry G...

Comptes rendus/Reviews

Peter Adey, David J. Cox, Barry Godfrey, Crime, Regulation and Control During the Blitz: Protecting the Population of Bombed Cities

London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2016, xii+253 p., ISBN: 978-1-411-5995-3
Henry Irving
p. 153-155
Référence(s) :

Peter Adey, David J. Cox, Barry Godfrey, Crime, Regulation and Control During the Blitz: Protecting the Population of Bombed Cities, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2016, xii+253 p., ISBN: 978-1-411-5995-3

Texte intégral

1This book uses Merseyside as a detailed case study to consider how local and national authorities responded to the threat and reality of aerial bombing during the Second World War. In line with the wide reach of “total war”, the authors adopt a broad definition of regulation and control, considering matters like morale and urban mobility alongside the likes of the black market and juvenile crime.

2Merseyside provides a fascinating lens through which to consider these examples. Its ports were vital to Britain’s war economy, providing the main connection to North American equipment and resources. Because of this, Liverpool, Bootle, Wallasey and Birkenhead were a key target, enduring the highest level of concentrated bombing outside London. The ports also reported significant losses through theft (p. 114-118), although Liverpool apparently bucked the national trend for increased violence during the war (p. 84).

3The authors employ a thematic structure to explore this history. Chapter two introduces civic identity and infrastructure before focusing on the threat of aerial bombing in the interwar imagination. Chapter three explains how Liverpool’s air raid precautions worked and introduces tensions between local and national government. Chapters four, five and six deal with crime, the black market and juvenile delinquency and are dealt with in more detail below. Chapter seven focuses on mobility and returns to the tension between different services. Chapter eight deals with morale and the (shorter) chapter nine reflects on the legacies of bombing.

4Chapters four, five and six are likely to be of most interest to the readers of this journal. Each takes a slightly different approach to questions of crime and deviance. Chapter four draws heavily on crime statistics to consider the overall picture of criminal activity in wartime. It also includes a useful historiographical overview and could easily be read as a standalone essay. Chapter five, by contrast, makes greater use of wartime newspaper reporting to explore the way black market activity was conceptualised. This approach betrays the vague accounting of illegal economic activity during the war but also owes a debt to Mark Roodhouse’s detailed work on black and grey market activity in Britain. The examples here add to his thesis. The treatment of juvenile crime in chapter six combines national and local statistics with an assessment of the response, including a thoughtful link to Liverpool’s experimental civil defence cadet scheme (p. 136-138).

5The authors caveat their work in the introduction, warning that the book “is unlikely to fizz or crackle with great theoretical developments” (p. 14). I am surprised they managed to sneak this phrase past their editors but the Blitz has been well-studied and their book consciously builds on a framework established by Angus Calder (1992) and others. Where the book comes into its own is in its detailed discussions of “the bureaucratic, the banal, the life of governing and policy” (p. 13). This is primarily achieved through rich case studies, which ensure that everyday experiences come to the fore. The black market chapter, for instance, opens with the story of a widow fined £2 for receiving a packet of Irish bacon from her daughter (p. 103).

6Despite the authors’ self-deprecation, there are also more theoretical arguments. One of the most original concerns the balance between continuity and disjuncture. Wartime brought new challenges: from the enforcement of black out restrictions to the clearance of rubble from roads and railways. But it also involved the persistence of pre-war practices. For instance, the authors explain that prosecutions under defence regulations were concentrated on working class areas. Was this because they were more likely to break wartime rules? Probably not. It was more likely evidence that “the police continued a well-worn tradition of patrolling, surveilling and controlling the traditional working-class areas of Liverpool, and that is where the offences were detected” (p. 99). Similarly, theft by dock workers is ascribed to a longer tradition of pilfering (p. 121) and the response to juvenile crime is seen to have been influenced by earlier ideas about punishment and reform (p. 142). These arguments may seem obvious to the authors, but they are too often overlooked within the history of the Second World War and add to recent work that places 1940-1941 back in its temporal context (for example, Susan Grayzel’s study of air raid precautions).

7Although arguments like the above pervade Crime, Regulation and Control During the Blitz, the lack of a clear conclusion makes them less explicit than they should be. Notwithstanding interesting discussions of wartime debris and post-war decline, the final chapter is the weakest and the short section on wartime memory does not link back to any of the themes explored in the main book. The chapter devotes rather more space to an overview of wartime Westminster politics. This is a missed opportunity: it would have been fascinating to hear how (indeed, if) crime, regulation and control feature in any of the museum displays, memory projects or popular histories mentioned in passing.

8There are other omissions. The authors explain that morality was one of the greatest causes of concern. There were fears of drunkenness, of prostitution, of young girls hanging around sailors and of mixed-race sexual relationships (p. 88-89). However, there is only the briefest mention of Liverpool’s sizeable Chinese community, which was subject to a campaign of police harassment during the war. Descendants of sailors who were forcibly deported have campaigned for an apology since the early 2000s and it was disappointing not to see reference to them here.

9Considering the book’s focus on civil defence, nor is the position of the fire brigade considered in any depth. Liverpool had a combined police and fire brigade and the relationship between regular and auxiliary firefighters is known to be just as complicated as that between other civil defence services (see Ewen, 2009). Some discussion of this could have added to the rich explanation of inter-authority working in chapter three, which showed how civil defence was grafted onto existing police districts. Similarly, apart from a nod towards Liverpool’s censorship office (p. 67), the working of the wartime press was also left open to interpretation (see Hodgson, 2015 for a discussion of Liverpool).

10These criticisms moderate, but do not diminish, a book that fizzes and crackles with detail. Despite its omissions, the case studies used in each chapter are engaging and provide the reader with much to mull over. John Hodsall’s stern criticism of post-raid traffic jams and Blitz tourism is a noteworthy example (p. 144). The book is useful for both its treatment of crime and regulation and for what it tells us about Merseyside’s experience of bombing. In the latter case, it also provides a model for using local archives and newspapers (alongside their national counterparts) to reconstruct wartime processes and behaviours.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Henry Irving, « Peter Adey, David J. Cox, Barry Godfrey, Crime, Regulation and Control During the Blitz: Protecting the Population of Bombed Cities »Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies, vol. 25, n°2 | -1, 153-155.

Référence électronique

Henry Irving, « Peter Adey, David J. Cox, Barry Godfrey, Crime, Regulation and Control During the Blitz: Protecting the Population of Bombed Cities »Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History & Societies [En ligne], vol. 25, n°2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 21 mars 2022, consulté le 22 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

© Droz

Haut de page
  • Logo The International Association for the History of Crime and Criminal Justice
  • Revue soutenue par l’Institut des sciences humaines et sociales du CNRS
    CNRS - Institut national des sciences humaines et sociales
  • OpenEdition Journals
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search