The Wartime Battle for Britain’s Health
By Laura Dawes
At the beginning of the Second World War, medical experts predicted epidemics of physical and mental illness on the home front. Rationing would decimate the nation's health, they warned; drugs, blood and medical resources would be in short supply; air raid shelters and evacuation would spread diseases; and the psychological effects of bombing raids would leave mental hospitals overflowing. Yet, astonishingly, Britain ended the war in better health than ever before.
Based on original archival research and written with wit and verve, FIGHTING FIT reveals an extraordinary, forgotten story of medical triumph against the odds. Through a combination of meticulous planning and last-minute scrambling, Britain succeeded in averting, in Churchill's phrase, the 'dark curse' on the nation's health. It was thanks to the pioneering efforts of countless individuals - doctors, nurses, social workers, boy scouts, tea ladies, Nobel Prize winners, air raid wardens, housewives, nutritionists and psychologists - who battled to keep the nation fit and well in wartime. As Laura Dawes shows, these men and women not only helped to win the war, they paved the way for the birth of the NHS and the development of the welfare state.
Laura Dawes is a writer and historian, specialising in medical history. She runs a historical consultancy business working with organisations around the world including the Wellcome Trust in London. Dr Dawes's first book, CHILDHOOD OBESITY IN AMERICA: BIOGRAPHY OF AN EPIDEMIC, was published to wide acclaim in 2014. Dr Dawes has received numerous academic awards, prizes and fellowships, including the Frank Knox Fellowship at Harvard, the Clarendon and Chevening Scholarships at Oxford, a Warren Center Research fellowship, Harvard Dissertation Fellowship, Vice-Chancellor's Awards for Academic Excellence, a Bicentennial Fellowship, the Frank Gillespie Prize, the Ronald Searcy Prize, the Parnell O'Connor Prize for creative writing and a Special Award for Creative Writing.
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- Publication date:
06 Jul 2017
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Thoroughly engrossing — THE BOOKSELLER
Spirited and readable — Vanessa Berridge, SUNDAY EXPRESS
Historian Laura Dawes digs into that other victory of the Second World War: public health in Britain. There had been dire predictions, such as epidemics incubated in air-raid shelters. But by the war's end, UK rates of almost all infectious diseases had dropped, thanks to the Medical Research Council, Nobel laureates such as physiologist Andrew Huxley, hordes or researchers and a willing public. Dawes' sparky account demonstrates how that rare teamwork advanced emergency care, preventive medicine, the treatment of insect-borne disease and, ultimately, the formation of the National Health Service. — NATURE
Dawes' research is prodigious. And as we have come to expect from this vein of wartime history, we encounter a case of characters and ideas that is both epic in scope and engagingly domestic in style. — Lucy Lethbridge, THE OLDIE
Armed conflicts may on the face of it, mean spilled guts, gore, dismemberment, pain and death. But the great paradox of World War II, as described in Laura Dawes's well-researched book, is that the horrors, in significant measure, did the general population a lot of good. — Roger Lewis, DAILY MAIL Book of the Week
A fascinating mix of war stories and human triumph. An enjoyable overview of the pursuit of the population's health that arguably led to the formation of the NHS and the welfare state. — WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
This beautifully written book is a gripping study of how keeping 'fighting fit' helped Britain win the war and paved the way for the NHS and the welfare state. Highly recommended for medics, history lovers and hypochondriacs alike. — THE LADY
A fascinating account of a sickly nation at the beginning of World War Two. — RED ON LINE
Laura Dawes...tells the remarkable story how ordinary people rose to the challenge of keeping Britain healthy. From ingenious schemes to store blood to Boy Scouts collecting seaweed for medicines, this is a highly readable tale of self-sacrifice, ingenuity and collaboration. — Chris Nancollas, THE TABLET
This well-researched book is an entertaining and informative read — Rebecca Wallersteiner, THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH