When the War is Over by Barbara Fox – a childhood account of home life in a village

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This is rather a special book, recording as it does the experience of one girl, one family, as they cope with unique circumstances. The fact that it is also a magical account of a childhood in a fairly idyllic setting is ironic, given the fact that it is wartime. With the benefit of hindsight we know that there was an end to the Second World War in which Britain itself was not invaded, and that though there were losses and tragedies both at home and abroad, most people survived. The evacuation of children for many must have seemed a great adventure; but for families spilt by such necessity there was confusion and pain. Not every child was greeted by those who were happy to give home to evacuees, and some hosts would choose children to set them to work. This book, written by the daughter of an evacuee, captures a time of mainly happiness, though shot through with the tragedies of several kinds.

Gwenda and Douglas are enjoying a happy and secure childhood in Newcastle with loving parents, family and friends. They know the neighbours, enjoy the company of a young maid, and special family times. The local area, including the parklands of Jesmond Dene, seem set up for the pleasure of a small girl as she recalls the Birdman, who feeds and knows the wild birds. All too soon war is declared, and although Gwenda is unsure what it will mean, she soon understands that food and other things will be in short supply. Moreover, she overhears that she and her elder brother are to be sent away, possibly even as far as Australia. Newcastle is not a safe place when German bombers seem to be expected, especially as there are docks and armament manufacturers close by to the house. So the children are sent away to the countryside, but it is not a happy placement. Illness and lack of care means that they are soon home once more. It is therefore with some trepidation that they are dispatched again, with firm instructions not to be parted. Eventually they are accepted by a kind couple who happen to be the local schoolmaster and wife, who are initially unsure if they can cope with a six year old girl, as they have older sons. Instead it turns out to be an entirely happy arrangement, with affection and friendship on both sides while Gwenda learns the harder realities of country life. There is sadness as not everyone returns to the village when illness strikes. Gwenda’s father joins the army, and the difficulties of war time travel means that the children rarely see their parents. There is a number of very funny incidents, such as when Gwenda travels on the bus with a necessary bucket, and she decides to bring a lamb home.

This is a book of vivid memories and well arranged stories. The narrative is linear and so well controlled. While there are many accounts of life on the Homefront available, both factual and fictional, this is exceptional simply because it represents the accurate memories of a curious and bright child. The writing is so good because it represents tales told to a daughter who has taken them and made them into a very readable account. It is perhaps too positive, as the bombs that fell on Newcastle seem to have avoided anyone known to the family, and the deaths that do occur are tragedies for others. Despite this, this is a very readable book which I really enjoyed, and recommend as a fascinating account for everyone interested in the wartime experience from a child’s point of view.

This is a charming book, written with real love and insight into a child’s mind. while I have been struggling to finish many books recently compared with last month, this was not difficult to read. I have a large essay to write for University soon, so there may be fewer posts, but I will be reviewing another super book soon; “The King’s Witch”by Tracy Borman.

Just a quick post…from a soggy festival

Just a quick note about a book which I managed to read while minding a marquee in the pouring rain. The Festival has now finished, in a day of heavy rain and too few visitors. Oh, and thunder and lightning. Still, I did finish some books which I’ll mention here.

Today’s book is Sand in my Shoes by Joan Rice.

Sand In My Shoes: Coming of Age in the Second World War: A WAAF's Diary

It’s a jolly book in many ways, suitable to while away a (literally) rainy afternoon, but not in any way great literature.It is a diary of the war time progress of a WAAF officer. It starts in civilian life, follows her training as a photographic surveillance interpreter, and her journey on board a ship as part of a convoy. It is in the form of a diary, which is repetitive, with gaps and a frustrating lack of detail. She describes many flirtations with pilots and other officers, but does not really reveal her thoughts and feelings in anything like enough detail. It almost seems to be written in note form. I could almost wish that someone had used the material to write a proper account, or a novel, which would give the account balance. Instead I learnt more about scrounging furniture than what it was really like to experience that time as a young woman.

I enjoy reading diaries as much as anyone (probably) but this was not a brilliant example. I’m looking forward to reading a friend’s book far more: Bedpans and Bobby Socks by Barbara Fox and Gwenda Gofton.

It does seem that this account of a journey across America is much better written. I look forward to enjoying this book – hopefully in the dry…