Nineteen-forty was possibly the darkest year in the entire history of Great Britain.
War had been declared against Nazi Germany the previous September, but so far it had been a ‘phoney war’: this would change rapidly in the months to come. In January, the Blitzkreig was unleashed upon Finland and Norway, which were defeated after stiff resistance; Denmark, Belgium and The Netherlands surrendered; Paris was bombed, and in June Marshall Pétain surrendered and France was occupied. The same month Italy declared war on Great Britain, 13,000 British and French troops surrendered to Field
Marshall Rommel at St. Valery and 300,000 Allied troops were evacuated from Dunkirk.
Britain stood alone against the Axis powers, and Winston Churchill (who had become Prime Minister in May) told the nation that “the Battle of France is now over; the Battle of Britain is about to begin”.
And begin it did, in July, with continuous bombing raids by the Luftwaffe, bravely checked by ‘The Few’ RAF fighter pilots: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. During September and October - the months of the Blitz – London was bombed on fifty-seven consecutive nights; in November, Coventry was utterly destroyed and in December 500 German bombers devastated Sheffield.
The Nazi tactic was to achieve aerial superiority in order to invade or force an armistice. Churchill had made it clear that this would never happen:
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight on the beaches…on the landing grounds…in the fields and the streets… We shall never surrender”.
By the end of the year it was clear that the Luftwaffe would not achieve its goal: the first, crucial, turning point in the war had been reached.
‘The Sixties’ was an era of profound cultural and political change, and truly began in 1963 with the start of what became known as the ‘counterculture’ – a rejection by the younger generation of the social norms of the 1950s.
The Cold War continued, with the seeds of what would become the Vietnam War being sown in November 1963, when President Johnson increased the number of American troops in South Vietnam. However, many in America and Britain began to doubt the way it was being conducted. In particular they were fearful of the spectre of nuclear war.
There was increasing distrust of the Establishment. In the U.K. the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, lied to the House of Commons about his affair with Christine Keeler. In America thousands of black Americans were arrested while protesting against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, prompting President Kennedy to promise a Civil Rights Bill – a promise which may have contributed to his assassination later in the year.
Key to the success of the counterculture was the increasing availability and quality of popular music, which - supported by the media, and particularly by the now widespread television – embraced new forms. 1963 was pre-eminently ‘The Year of The Beatles’, who twice reached the top of both album and single charts. By October, the press had coined the term ‘Beatlemania’.
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