High Heels & Beetle Crushers by Jackie Skingley – a recollection of a young woman’s life in the early 1960s
This is a book of a woman with two elements to her life; a life of family, friends and loves, and the drama, excitement and challenge of training as an officer in the Women’s Royal Army Corps. The fact that it takes place as the nineteen sixties are getting established with all the change to women’s options and lifestyles. On one level hers is a ladylike existence, with heels and gloves, hats and relatively formal dresses for special occasions. While not quite chaperoned, the sexes are not expected to mingle informally and are trained on separate sites for different lengths of time. On the other hand this book has much about her training as an army officer, with command challenges and emergency training. She also writes movingly of her family background and its effect on her life choices in a vivid style which kept me engaged throughout the book. Jackie writes honestly with a distinctive accuracy for a long period of her life. It brings to life a time of particular fashion, patterns for creating dresses and outfits in the home, and only a few cars available. I found it a fascinating and informative read, and I was glad to have the opportunity to read and review this honest autobiography.
The book begins with Jackie’s earliest memories of wartime. Her father was a part of the aircrew of a Lancaster bomber which did not return to Britain in early 1944. Her mother was widowed as a young woman with two small children. While she depended on older women in the family, when she met and married Reg Pearce she lost some of her independence. Jackie in particular did not get on with him, as his attitude is controlling and snobbish, and there is the suggestion of him attempting inappropriate behaviour with her. She records her difficult school experience in which she made friends, but was left with the recommendation that she was suited to clerical work. She seems to have had a happy gift of making friends of both sexes, and even as a nervous eighteen year old she finds herself coping with life in an isolated hotel as a trainee receptionist. She has met an army officer in training at Sandhurst, and a long term relationship ensues. She feels deeply the challenges of maintaining a relationship while trying to have her own career, as they are separated geographically and there is the understanding that women cannot have a career when married. On a mundane level the “beetle crushers” in the title are the clumpy black shoes issued as part of the uniform for female army officers.
The story of this book is not all straightforward, as a traumatic event shapes Jackie’s life. Her recovery with the help of friends and new acquaintances is a testimony to the positive effects that such support can have, and Jackie’s moving writing.
I found this a positive read and a valuable insight in a woman’s life in a time of change in so many respects. As attitudes to gender issues, divorce and other elements of life are described, this book is particularly informative for people who want to know about society’s pressures in the fairly recent past. This is a well written book of social history focused on one young woman’s experience, a powerful testament to flourishing in a sometimes challenging times, and finding happiness after a time of severe adversity.
I was fortunate enough to be approached by Jackie herself to post a review of this book, and I have honestly enjoyed finding out more about this fascinating person’s memories.