It is the height of the Blitz. Night after night, wave after wave of German bombers pound London’s streets, determined to bring the city to its knees.
Alan and his best mates, Tommy and Wilkie, have virtually given up going to school. Classes are continually disrupted. Many of the teachers, dragged out of retirement because of the war, hardly care whether their pupils learn or not. Some days there are silences at school registration – where the names of children injured or killed by falling bombs once were.
As Alan and his friends roam the streets of Clapham and Brixton, they get sucked into Duggie‘s world – a teenager who runs a gang of looters. Alan vows never to steal for Duggie again. But they become caught up in the dangerous dealings of an armed robber called Ted.
Ted is on the run after shooting a bank guard, hunted by the police. Duggie tells Alan and his mates if they help Ted escape, they need never work for him again. As bombs fall all around his lookout, Alan believes it is the end of their troubles. But he is wrong. Alan is taken by the gangster’s and faces certain death.
This thrilling story, based on the author’s own experiences growing up during the Blitz, is an antidote to nostalgia. It shows the terrors of the Blitz and how war brings out both the best and the worst in adults and children alike.
This was a good read, bringing me back to a snapshot in time when London suffered under the Blitz.
The terror of living through frequent German attacks, as seen through the eyes of a child, is vividly described. Brian James has done a fine job of putting flesh on the broken scaffolding of those dire times, using Alan and his friends’ adventures, their imagination, and their sense of fun on even the worst of days. The immediacy of his descriptions gives the reader a real sense of a primary schoolchild’s life in wartime London, one with no rose-tinted glasses in evidence. The realism of a working-class boyhood in the 1940’s, and how children could and did fall into the hands of dangerous gangs by unlucky chance is quite graphic. The children, getting an inadequate education in an ill-run school, find it all too easy to roam the broken streets. Streets that are as full of bad as good, as a policeman Alan meets says:
“Lot of bad people out there,” sighed the policeman. “You’d think with this war on, bombs dropping all over the place, killing innocent people, it’d be enough to worry about. But it’s times like this when the rats crawl outta their holes and take advantage. No one’s safe from these gangs. And there’s plenty of guns about too. As if we haven’t got enough bother with Hitler and his evil crew.”
The boys become almost feral, and survive experiences that might scar them for life, but where there is life, there a chance to dream, and Alan dreams of living in quieter, happier places.
James’ writing is both gripping and grim, with scattered moments of pure joy in the children’s improvised games. The snappy colloquial dialogue of the London streets and plenty of action, makes this story a real page turner for any youngster.
As I said, I enjoyed the read and recommend Dangerous Skies to both adults and children who would like to know more about how dangerous the gritty streets of London were, and not only from the skies above, during the war.
R B Watkinson