The Enemy Within
Hucksters, Racketeers, Deserters, and Civilians During the Second World War
AUTHOR: Thomas, Donald
PUBLISHER: New York University Press
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While the Second World War produced numerous acts of self-sacrifice, it also made many people rich. The criminal activities of the British underworld that extended from the civilian population right through to the armed forces constitute one of the great untold stories of the war. The Blitz of 1940 may have made a nation of heroes, but in the shadows the shelter gangs and looters prowled.
Acclaimed author Donald Thomas draws on extensive archival material for these tales of profiteering. He retells how between 1940 and 1941 a Liverpool ship repairer cheated the government of the modern equivalent of $30 million, while $120 million a month was looted from relief supplies at the port of Trieste. Professional gangs raided British government offices for ration books, and underground presses counterfeited gasoline and clothing coupons by the tens of thousands. Illegal food supplies threatened the nation's health—a consignment of black market sausages in Hackney contained tuberculous meat, while the industrial alcohol, or "hooch", served to pilots in London's West End clubs could produce blindness and brain damage.
The Enemy Within also recounts colossal theft within the army. Vehicles would arrive at front line railheads stripped of tools, spare parts, and removable components, and whole consignments of cigarettes and razor blades disappeared.
In addition to these stories, The Enemy Within includes revealing photos of known law-breakers, victims, and illegal transactions. The facts Thomas uncovers are often so preposterous that in a novel they would seem unbelievable. These are the extraordinary and often absurd stories of less-than-heroic Britons.
PUBLICATION DATE: 5/1/2004
CATEGORY: History, Social Science