Visit any museum gift shop, and you’re bound to find a couple of spinners loaded with Pitkin Guides. For years the Pitkin model has been a extremely popular way of presenting gentle introductions to a subject, something that is particularly useful for younger people and those of us who are completely new to a subject.
As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, it is an appropriate time to take a look at Pitkin’s Guide to the Battle of Britain, written by Roy C Nesbit. Although I describe myself as a military historian, the Battle of Britain is by no means my strongest subect – I really should know more about it than I do!
The Guide starts off with a look at the outbreak of war in September 1939, and how Blitzkrieg broke out in Europe on 10 May 1940. This is of course very important, as event leading up to Dunkirk led in turn to the Battle of Britain. A look at the Dunkirk spirit of May and June 1940 is very important – it would be all too easy to focus on Spitfires, Dowding and the like, and to ignore the bigger picture. We find out about Civil Defence and the formation of the Home Guard, the Land Army and the other Womens voluntary services. There is also a healthy emphasis on the Home Front throughout.
A section on the German invasion plans is also important, as it was exactly this that the Battle of Britain was trying to prevent. We are then told about the structure of Fighter Command in 1940, its men and women and its aircraft. We are then given a detailed summary of the Battle, describing the major engagements, such as Adler Tag and the bombing of London. Another interesting inclusion is an aerial combat report compiled by a Spitfire pilot – its gripping stuff.
Overall, the Guide is extremely well illustrated, with a handful of insightful pictures on each page. It is also very well-written – its easy to write in a complicated manner, but to reduce complex events into simple terms is a real skill, and a very important one given the guide’s target audience. Granted, if you already know about the Battle of Britain theres not much here to learn, but as an introduction to the subject it serves very well.
The feature I really like about this Guide, however, is the final page, entitled ‘A Nation Remembers’. It tells s about the range of memorials that can be visited, such as the RAF Church at St Clement Danes, the Battle of Britain and RAF Memorials in London, the RAF Museum, the memorial at Capel-le-Ferne in Kent, and – from my point of view, most importantly – advice on how to access RAF records in the National Archives.