It was the year of the glorious Battle of Britain, of the heroic evacuation of Dunkirk. It was the time when the mighty British empire declared its intention to fight the Nazis-alone if necessary-to the bitter end. It was, as Churchill dubbed it, Britain's "Finest Hour." In 1940: Myth and Reality, Clive Ponting reveals that it was nothing of the sort. Britain was broke in 1940 and utterly dependent on the United States for economic aid. The government fabricated German casualty figures after the Battle of Britain, suppressed knowledge of the complete fiasco that led to Dunkirk, and actually tried secretly to sue for peace that year. The British people were at best grimly resigned to the war; at worst they suffered appalling privations. Without denigrating the heroism of individuals, Mr. Ponting offers a startling account of the ineptitude and propaganda that marked much of 1940: Britain's stormy relations with France, its bizarre attempts to force a united Ireland, and the unpopularity of Winston Churchill.
While he made rousing speeches in the House of Commons, Churchill rarely broadcast to the nation: his stirring "we shall fight on the beaches" speech was in fact broadcast by the actor who played Larry the Lamb on Children's Hour.