Book review: The West End Front
Who knew that East End Communists once invaded the air-raid shelter of the Savoy or that – for one night only – a suite in Claridge’s was declared Yugoslav territory so that their heir to the throne could be born on home soil?
These and other witty anecdotes and historical facts make up Matthew Sweet’s new book The West End Front (£20, hardback, Faber & Faber), which details the fascinating history of London’s grand hotels during the Blitz.
Sweet is an excellent story teller who combines the memories of first-hand witnesses, the contents of newly declassified government files and a wealth of previously unpublished letters, memoirs and photographs to a tight, evocative narrative that will transport you back to the Forties and reveals a previously largely ignored aspect of the Second World War Home Front.
The book focuses on the personal lives of hotel employees, hotel bar regulars, MI5 spies, the British aristocracy and the deposed foreign royals that all mingled and met at The Ritz, the Savoy, the Dorchester, Claridge’s and London’s other grand hotel. Some of these tales – such as the story of Italian-born staff who were interned during the war – are a touching reminder of how the War affected nearly everyone and forever changed the lives of ordinary people.
West End Front is also the uncomfortable story of the continuing class-rift during the War, detailing the determination of the upper classes to retain their wealth and social standing and prevent a new, more democratic post-war Britain.
A moving and thrilling read for anyone interested in London during the Blitz.