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Joe Mac

Charles Ritche diaries

I've just galloped through a volume of Charles Ritchie's wartime diaries, entitled 'The Siren Years: A Canadian Diplomat Abroad, 1937 - 1945'.

Ritchie was in London from Jan. 1939 to Jan. 1945 and his daily musings about the attitudes and reactions of the people he encountered is very illuminating indeed, given what was going on. For example, he noted a certain relief at the outset of the bombing, after the terrible anticipation of it.
Here's a bit I found particularly interesting:
22 June, 1940
Several exhausting days during which the office has been flooded with people trying to arrange for their children to get out to Canada. I have been impressed by three things:
1. The unnatural coolness of English parents - no broken voices or tear-filled eyes
2. The incredible confusion caused when civil servants are taken by surprise; and by a sudden onrush of events. I see how 'government' breaks down. The picture of such a breakdown is a queue of people with urgent problems and a distracted civil servant, his desk covered with forms and regulations, cornered by 'reality.'
3. I am impressed by the sacrosanct importance of the British nanny. People here would rather let their children run the risk of being bombed than send them out on a sea voyage without their nanny.


Ritchie is really a clever fellow, with a keen eye and a somewhat astringent view of his fellow man. He is a bit too disdainful for my liking in many cases (British diplomacy and bureaucracy are objects of his scorn, along with many individuals) but he gives praise where he feels it's due.
For example:

27 January, 1942
Heard the Prime Minister defend the government's conduct of the war in the House. It was the greatest speech I have ever heard.


Besides other diplomats, Ritchie's social acquainances tended towards the literary set; he met the love of his life, Elizabeth Bowen at christening of the grandchild of John Buchan. His diary is peopled with all sorts of characters whose names are familiar.

Anyway...great stuff. Very interesting. Wish I had more time to talk about it...............
Caro

Sounds just like my sort of thing, Joe.  But whether I can find it round is another matter.  I might find the astringency irritating after a while, but would probably enjoy it to start with.  

Cheers, Caro.

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