Hester Christie would have been a familiar character to readers in the 1930s who had encountered “Mrs Tim of the Regiment”, D.E. Stevenson’s book which introduced a military family. This book is a sequel, published in 1941 to improve morale in the first part of the Second World War. It tells the gentle story of a group of soldiers families, in much the same way as the slightly later “Spring Magic” was to do. This novel is written in the form of a diary or journal, reflecting Hester’s own thoughts and conversations. She does not cover every day; indeed for one rather difficult period she is largely silent, but she conveys a lot about her children and friends, guests and those she feels responsible for by reason of her husband’s military rank. She reveals how she feels about the dangers which her husband and others face, but also how her friends point out that he may be safer in France than Britain, given the dangers caused by the backout and the predicted bombing of the barracks near to where they live.
Hester’s son is away at school, and sends entertaining letters while there, and goes for interesting projects when home. Her younger daughter Betty has an amusing view on wartime life, and those who she likes. Hester has a friend, Grace, who is pregnant and given to strange ideas about the son she is sure that she is going to have imminently. A young guest causes a stir in the area, as the younger soldiers are very interested. Hester has responsibilities to the soldiers and frequently to their emotional needs, and this can involve her in interesting situations. Stevenson has a keen ear for dialogue and the humour of everyday situations. This book does not contain great drama but the sort of everyday events that prove fascinating in Stevenson’s masterly hands. Her common experience of shortages, sending small items to soldiers abroad, fancy furnishing in lodgings and wartime travel would have struck a chord with the first readers, and for those who can enjoy this reprint today provide the details that make this book really come alive. While this is a book of its time, it is a fascinating account of life in the Second World War which really comes alive in Stevenson’s experienced and skilled hands. I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent bookmade available once more by Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press.
The characters in this book are memorable and unique. Miss Browne Winters is a devotee of past lives, while some people are very open to listen to her. Polish soldiers with their halting English and friendly disposition become a feature of local society, just as foreign soldiers of various kinds would have done all over Britain. Romance invariably plays its part in a small group of people where tennis parties are still popular and the cinema is a venue for couples and friends to spend time together.
Altogether this a gentle and undemanding book, but full of interest and with many enjoyable characters. It is full of the details that an eyewitness could supply, and a narrative that flows well throughout. While true to a real chronology, this is a proper story which moves along well throughout. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in life on the Home Front during the early part of the War, and it provides a good story which transcends its setting. It is a really fascinating book of life, love and the everyday which has so much insight and humour.
I really enjoy the Furrowed Middlebrow books – I have one or two in the house really to read and review. As the latest group are set in or just after the Second World War, they will be very interesting insights into what was actually experienced, without the benefit for some writers of knowing what was to happen.