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Castorboy

We are at War

From: castor-boy  (Original Message)             Sent: 10/25/2008 9:34 PM
The book has the sub title "The Diaries of Five Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times" and is edited by Simon Garfield. What he has done is "mine" the archive of Mass-Observation which is held at Sussex University in England.

My interest in WW11 diaries had been stimulated by viewing the Victoria Wood portrayal of a Morecambe housewife in a film shown a few months ago.
So I was pleased with the extracts from the diaries of these five people living in the UK between August 1939 and October 1940. Their houses are in Glasgow, Preston,Slough,London and Tadworth near Epsom.
Their ages range from 28 to 41 and there are four women and a man.
The domestic extracts are put in context by the addition of world events at the start of each chapter.We know from official histories that there was a strong desire for peace among the ruling class but these diaries show that the "ordinary" people had views ranging from the patriotic to to the defeatist. But by the end of 1940 even the most negative were becoming determined to beat Hitler.
We learn how to handle a stirrup-pump;how Tommy Handley wasn't the comic genius we thought;how popular siren suits became and, what surprised me, why Churchill was not always regarded as the man for the job.
Many of the extracts are truly inspiring. For instance - this from Septenber 1940 :
What a great thing it is to have been born in the 20th century. This supreme moment in the nation's history didn't come in my great-grandparents' time,it is not something lying in wait for my great-children,but it is here in my time.
I was born just before the war and recall just how important the radio was to my family for news and entertainment right through to the middle 50s.
So this extract caught my attention :
Tonight and last night the wireless began to play tricks about 10 o'clock. It was cut into by a foreign station playing dance music...then English was being spoke from Athlone, then everywhere else was voices speaking French, German or languages I didn't know.....the voice of Goodness surronded by and threatened by demon laughter....If my link with the BBC is broken I shall feel adrift, alone in an ocean with no one to guide me.
Whatever it's shortcomings today, the BBC will always remain one of the UK's finest exports.
Finally for those who enjoy this book there is a treat - the book is the first of a published trilogy of diary extracts from 1939 to 1948.

N.B. Mass-Observation has a new Project started in 1981 and has a database of over 400 correspondents answering questionaires and keeping records of their lives. New members are welcome to write to moa@sussex.ac.uk if they want join the Project.  

From: KiwiCaro1                                          Sent: 10/25/2008 10:00 PM
I have a little book sent to me by my son in Sheffield written by a working-class man who was brought up in the 1930s in what might have considered a slum area.  I don't exactly know where this is at the moment, but I remember he said his parents and their neighbours were really scathing about Churchill.  I have forgotten if there was a reason why, though there is an episode where someone came wearing fancy clothes and trying to prise money they didn't have off them, or put up their rents or some such thing.

I read Mauve by Simon Garfield and found it really good.  This looks just the sort of thing I like too.  I will look out for it.  

From: lunababymoonchild                             Sent: 10/26/2008 12:58 AM
I thought I recognised the author's name.  I too, very much enjoyed Mauve but am unsure about learning more on the subject of the second world war - too many TBR calling me! - but thanks for drawing my attention to it.

From: A_is_for_apple0                                    Sent: 10/27/2008 3:53 PM
I have this book - it was a christmas pressie last year from a friend of mine, and I think it is absolutely fabulous!
 
From: castor-boy                                            Sent: 10/27/2008 8:04 PM
Fab indeed! It was like reading five life stories in one volume. And of course with knowing the outcome we can sympathise with each viewpoint.
I have just started reading the sequel Private Battles in which two of the original diarists continue their writings.  

From: A_is_for_apple0                                    Sent: 10/28/2008 8:49 AM
Yes, because we know the outcome of it, it makes those stories all the more powerful because for them they didn't know that we won.
They were living through it and at that time there was the constant threat of German invasion on everyone's mind and the doubt as to whether or not Britain could beat Hitler.

From: KiwiCaro1                                            Sent: 10/28/2008 1:00 PM
On a much more trivial note, though on the same subject, I read not long ago Pied Piper by Nevil Shute, and was interested that he wrote that in 1943, when again he would not have been sure of the war's outcome (though perhaps by then it was becoming clearer).  But sitting reading it happily knowing we are not all Germanic Aryan or outsiders did bring something extra to it, I thought.

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