Fighting Fit: The Wartime Battle for Britain’s Health

Fighting Fit cover

On 8 May 1945, Winston Churchill stood on the balcony of a ministerial building in Whitehall and announced that Hitler had been defeated. “This is your victory…this is your hour,” he told the cheering crowds. He might equally have turned around and said the same thing to the workers in the building behind him, for the balcony that Churchill was standing on belonged to the Ministry of Health which, in its own way, had won a battle as important as the military victory. The weapons in this quieter struggle were soap, bread, milk, and medicine. After ragged skirmishes in the opening years of the war, the battle for Britons’ bodies was slowly and inexorably won. By the time Churchill celebrated on the Ministry of Health’s balcony, infant mortality was lower than it had ever been, deaths from child-killing diphtheria had fallen, better nutrition had seen rates of almost all infectious diseases drop, and mental health was sound. Thanks to the efforts of doctors, nurses, social workers, boy scouts, club women, first aiders, physiologists, tea ladies, Nobel Prize winners, air raid wardens, housewives, nutritionists, and psychologists, at the end of six years of war Britannia was in better health than she had ever been. Never, indeed, had so much been owed by so many to so many.

Extensively researched and jauntily written, Fighting Fit shows how meticulous planning for medical services drew on the skills and expertise of so many different people, from boy scouts to the London expert on body lice. Homefront public health efforts showed that a well-fed population with good medical care was capable of economic and military marvels. Wartime experience became the foundation for the modern National Health Service. This book tells the surprising stories of efforts to keep Britain fighting fit, and how these efforts won the quietest victory of all.

Listen to Laura speaking to Lish Feyer on ABC 666 Radio about Fighting Fit.

Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Fighting Fit is OUT NOW!

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