Sword of Bone by Anthony Rhodes – A 1942 novel of waiting for war reprinted in the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series

Sword of Bone by Anthony Rhodes

This is a novel of the fictionalised memories of a man sent to France and Belgium in the very early days of the Second World War. Originally published in 1942, the details of Rhodes’ memories had to be changed in some respects because the War was continuing and names had to be concealed. Written within a couple of years of events, without the benefit of hindsight of how the war would proceed let alone finish, this is a vivid picture of a young officer’s experiences on the eve of a new type of warfare. Now reprinted in the excellent Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series with an informative Introduction by Alan Jeffreys, this novel has a “quality which differentiates literature from reporting” according to the author Elizabeth Bowen. Most of the book is taken up with an account of the months before the conflict actually began, and covers Rhodes’ activities in finding sleeping quarters for the men of his division in various places, then obtaining necessary supplies for the work that the engineers had to do. It is therefore filled with memorable characters who are variously concerned with the potential hostilities or are confident that the Germans will not attack. When it becomes obvious that the invasion of France is imminent, it is not revealing too much to say that the tempo of the book changes. The champagne which had been freely consumed, the convivial evenings spent with the locals over fine food and the promises of peace give way to sudden departures and roads filled with refugees. It becomes matter of fact as the path is taken to Dunkirk, and the desperation of those awaiting rescue.

This is a book of men and very few women who are preparing for War with clear memories of the trenches and losses of the all too recent “Great War”. Rhodes himself admits that some of his alcohol consumption is fuelled by the fear that he too will be sucked into the agonising battles and horrific trenches that had filled France within living memory. This book is a powerful testimony of the sort of life lived during the “Bore” or “Phoney” War before the Dunkirk evacuation. It was a time of waiting, preparation and confusion when it was still desperately hoped that there would not be a repeat of the fighting that had killed and injured so many in France. It is far from a book of sophisticated battle stories and military memoirs; instead it presents a series of characters who are trying to carry on with the shadow of war over them. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fine book.    

This book begins with the realisation that war is really on the way in September 1939. Entering the army as an officer, there is only a relatively brief time before Rhodes is sent to France in charge of the advance party, together with sealed maps and a trail of clues that will lead to the towns and villages where he must find places for the officers and men to sleep. He records the problems of getting on with those he has to work and live, the other officers and their idiosyncrasies. He learns about the French attitudes to soldiers taking space in their houses, he describes how businessmen hope there will be quick money to be made from the British Army who they believe to be backed up by the Bank of England. He meets mainly well intentioned people who are resigned to strangers in their midst, and the narrative is a lively account of the people he meets and the sometimes exasperating situations he finds himself in. When the Germans sweep through several European countries and begin to enter France, after bombing many places that they regard as legitimate targets, it becomes obvious that most of the defensive preparations that Rhodes and the British forces have made have been ineffective. The battle to survive is now begun, and Dunkirk is the only option. 

This is an incredibly readable book which maintains a lively pace throughout. It is full of the immediacy of a strange almost pre war atmosphere, yet the transition to real danger is well handled. I recommend this book to those who enjoy reading first hand accounts of life during this period, written and published in the heat of a new style of conflict by a skilled and experienced author.  

A Sister’s Wish by Donna Douglas – During the Blitz of Hull, family relationships are strained

A Sister’s Wish by Donna Douglas

Hull in the spring of 1941 was a dangerous place to be, and in this novel by the experienced writer Donna Douglas no one knows that better than Iris. She has lost her three year old daughter Lucy and the best friend who had been caring for her, Dolly. As she returns to Jubilee Row from hospital after a long stay she is terrified of returning home, not because of the heavy bombing but because of the memories that will be all around her. As she is greeted by her extended family and neighbours she is unable to cope, unable to meet with their expectations. This rich and multi-layered story of a complex family trying to survive amid the horrors of total war is full of characters who all have their own challenges and fears. While they mainly live very close to each other, there are details of other parts of Hull that were damaged, streets that almost disappeared and landmarks that were affected. Besides the impressive cast of characters, Douglas has completed a lot of research into conditions in Hull and the main raids that scarred the area, but the research is never allowed to slow the narrative. The characters are vibrant and seem real, each one having their own part to play. This is a novel that I enjoyed reading very much, and found engaging throughout. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this compelling book.  

As Iris’ family prepare for her arrival at home, there is a subtle introduction to the people who have been waiting for her return. This includes her two remaining children, a baby Kitty, and nine year old Archie who has strong memories of his younger sister and Dolly, the friend who was looking after them. He feels guilty for not looking after her more, and will be challenged by someone who criticizes him for his reaction to the trauma. Edie has been the subject of a previous novel, but her story in this book is self explanatory.Left alone by the man she loved, she is now concentrating on Bobby as the focus of her love, even though a good friend would welcome the company of another single parent. It is Ruby, capable and happy to support anyone, that has to cope with horrible memories of her past when her most difficult relationship is challenged. As Big May Maguire tries to hold her family together in the face of the most destructive bombing Hull has faced, real shelter is difficult to find.

This is a deeply absorbing book which is difficult to put down, as the relationships in a complex group of family, friends and neighbours is severely challenged. As relationships are affected by loss, everyone must reassess what they truly feel, as the most surprising people show a determination and courage previously unsuspected. One of the main stories, of Ruby and her younger sister Pearl is very involving, as loyalties, love and a life-long role of caring is shaken. Douglas has tremendous confidence in her characters, and places them in settings which prove testing in so many ways. Her understanding of their feelings for a place transformed by bombers is touching, as it is not only the physical injuries they must cope with in this emotionally realistic novel. This a wartime story set in a place which suffered sustained bombing is different from other sagas in its handling of a true community of characters in a relatively small place. I recommend it for its understanding not only of adult reactions to a nearly impossible time, but also a sensitive handling of the trauma suffered by children.  

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear – London in September 1941 brings new challenges for Maisie Dobbs

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

There are many facets of the Masie Dobbs story – this is the sixteen book that tells of her life and adventures. However, it is so well written that this book stands alone as a story of the Second World War, set in London 1941 when Britain still seems to fear the threat of invasion. When a messenger boy witnesses something which disturbs him even more than the continuous bombing of London which he has been trying to outrun, he turns to Maisie for help as a private investigator. What Freddie and a lot of people do not know is that Maisie is also working with those who are secretly trying to help the French cause, and it is this dangerous work that is making her wonder about all of her relationships.

As with all of Winspear’s novels this book benefits from an impressive amount of research, into the role played by boys who could run fast, the effects of the First World War on the men and women who were there, and the role of the British Secret services during the present conflict. Even without the element of mystery this would be an impressive book of historical fiction, such is Winspear’s sure understanding of the costs of total war. This skilled author never slows the story with extra information, it emerges naturally as part of the narrative. Maisie as always is the central figure, relying on her training from her mentor, her experience and her intuition to make the most of her contacts. Her work is against the background of her love for her daughter, for her family and friends that she has such a strong interest in from long term affection. This book is a wonderful read for Maisie Dobbs fans, but also those coming new to the characters. I was so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book.

The Prologue sets out the story of Freddie Hackett, a boy who can run fast, knows London and has good reason to be observant and wary. When he witnesses a murder, he reports it to the police, but he knows that they will be difficult to convince without any evidence. He realizes that he must tell “Someone who would believe him.” Meanwhile Maisie is saying a temporary goodbye to her daughter Anna, and dealing with questions about “Uncle Mark”, an American that she is apparently having a relationship with in London. Her return to London from the village where she has gathered those whoshe loves is to discover her assistant embroiled in the cases that he is able to deal with, as well as the plight of Freddie who has been turned away from Scotland Yard. She determines that the boy is not lying, but can see that there is little specific evidence. She meets up with Robert MacFarlane to attend to her secret War work, which is difficult and secret and on this occasion particularly challenging on several levels. It is why she is beginning to wonder if she can really continue with her present life, especially when she gets more evidence of the worse that people are capable of in a time of uncertainty.

This is a brilliantly written book of twists and turns, surprises and revelations. It is a compelling read as it seems effortlessly to combine the challenges faced by a talented woman torn by her loyalty to those she loves and the common effort to do the right thing. I recommend this as a satisfying read, and an excellent addition to the Maisie Dobbs series.

Triumph of the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell – In 1943 the women of the shipyard must cope with life on the Home Front

Triumph of the Shipyard Girls: 8 (The Shipyard Girls Series): Amazon.co.uk:  Revell, Nancy: 9781787464261: Books

Triumph of the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell

This book begins at Christmas 1942, following seven previous books in a vibrant series featuring women who work in a shipyard in Sunderland. Unlike the previous books, however, this book has lots of flashbacks to the 1930s in the case of Rosie. This book stands alone in its strong contribution to the overall ensemble story of war and strong women who are struggling to survive. Along with some of the previous books in this series, there are vivid stories in this novel of life, love and some sadness against the background of war. Several of the characters work as welders in a gang of highly skilled women, while Bel works in the office and Helen organizes much of the work in Thompson’s yard. Their families, represented by strong women like Agnes, are struggling on with raids, shortages and other problems of life on the home front. In this novel Rosie, the leader of the welding gang, has to struggle with her younger sister Charlotte, who is immensely curious about Lily and her business. Worse still, the teenager is also keen to discover why she was sent to an obscure boarding school so far away, and it is this questioning which problems memories of past trauma. This is a book which kept me fully engaged from the beginning, as I was so keen to discover what happened next. I enjoyed it tremendously and found it so hard to put down.

As always in these books, Revell manages to run several storylines at once, including the flashbacks to Rosie’s traumas, which is extremely well handled. She does explain the events in a storyline with delicacy and honesty. Rosie’s friends are supportive, especially the irrepressible Lily and her developing relationship with Charlotte who is visibly fascinated by her and her home. It proves difficult for some of the young women not to drop hints about Lily’s business, especially in Charlotte’s attentive hearing. Meanwhile Polly is coming to terms with the absence of her great love, and the implications of her discovery. Happily Helen is now so involved with the women who work on the yard and those she has recently come to know so well that she will provide practical and financial support. However, she too is curious, and enlists help to discover secrets that have been long kept. She is determined to maintain and improve production of vital ships in the yard, but realizes that cannot be done in isolation.

I found this book well researched in terms of daily life and details of clothes, housing and the effects of the raids on Sunderland. This book is about far more than bombing and the obvious effects of the war, but is a vivid picture of what the war was like for those in places like Sunderland.  The amount of research that has gone into this book is immense, yet it is never obvious. The characterization is excellent, and makes this a very special book. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the way women who coped with so many challenges, and the emotional demands put upon people. This is a well written book and I am looking forward to reading the next installment as soon as possible.  

Christmas with the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell – the build up to Christmas in 1942 with challenges among the people of Sunderland

Christmas with the Shipyard Girls: Shipyard Girls 7 (The Shipyard Girls  Series) eBook: Revell, Nancy: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

Christmas with the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell

This is a novel in the popular and immensely readable Shipyard Girls series, telling the story of a group of women who worked as welders on the ships that were vital to the war effort. This volume is set in the months leading up to Christmas in 1942, when the Second World War was raging and places like Sunderland where the Shipyard is sited were particular targets for bombing raids. This novel continues the saga of the women, their friends and family, as they try to work and survive. They are a varied group, and those they live with and love are memorable characters. This being the seventh book in the series, many of the themes and people are well known, but it is possible to read these books out of order as they tend to concentrate on one or two characters. 

In this book, Polly is the centre of much of the story as she struggles with what should be a joyful time, but instead finds enormous challenges. As with all the books in this series, the research into the actual ship building, repair and maintenance is impeccable, yet never gets in the way of the human element. I enjoyed this book so much that I read it through the night. It is the sort of book that does not depend on a mystery, but rather on the simple question of what will happen next, and in particular, what will various characters choose to do. Polly has much to think about in this book, as despite the surprise appearance of someone she loves, she is not completely happy with her future. Revelations and twists dominate her story, as her friends and family are greatly concerned with what she will do. Meanwhile Helen, who has faced an awful dilemma in the recent past, has changed and become significantly more comfortable with the women in the Yard, which she effectively runs. While she is willing to help the people who she has become close to, she still has ambitions which seem to be dominating her life. Rosie’s life is made more tricky by the sudden arrival of her younger sister Charlotte, who is desperate to stay in the town while remaining silent about what has happened at her private school. She is especially intrigued by the amazing Lily, whose over the top personality is displayed to great effect in this particular book, and who raises lots of questions. 

This ensemble book is particularly strong on the motivation of characters, even those who are not central to the story on this occasion. People like Dorothy and Angie are drawn in well, full of life and given an enjoyable amount of dialogue. There are wonderful descriptions of clothes, even though the central set of women spend much of the time wearing overalls, which reflects a time of rationing and new clothes being a rare treat for many of the women. This book manages to make the whole area, the streets, the yards and the whole locality really come to life, as the buildings are described as illustrating the damage and destruction suffered in recent raids. This is a vibrant and involving novel which has a great sense of community, as well as secrets and half known elements of life. It finishes at Christmas, but much of the novel concentrates in the period from October, so I would suggest that this book could be enjoyed at any time. This is the first of two books in the series with Christmas in the title, and I am looking forward to reading the other one after the intervening installment!  

The Windmill by K.Lewis Adair – a novel of connections over generations

The Windmill - Troubador Book Publishing

The Windmill by K.Lewis Adair

Connections abound in this beautifully written book of different time periods, depicting different lives interconnected by so many links. Ginny inherits a house, and as she does the book returns the reader to the past, of complicated motives, double edged actions and the beauty of a painting that depicts a windmill and symbolises much more. Characters whose fates have an effect over years appear in different circumstances, with hints and clues left for others. Mysteries and more are central to this novel, as Ginny tries to discover who left her a house undisturbed for decades.This book manages to introduce many characters during its chapters, including several generations and wartime intrigues. It has a certain lyrical beauty as it describes places, people and events in detail: from a speck of fluff to a night time pursuit. This is a story which is an easy read and an intriguing concept, that somehow manages to bring in so many elements. Part historical fiction, part near contemporary story, this is an interestingly constructed novel. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

A life or death situation opens the book, an idea which is left in the background as a young woman receives a letter which changes her life. It seems she has been bequeathed a house, strangely named “Redivius”, by Florence van Hassel. Working out a link with her late grandmother, she sets off for her mother’s house. Her mother’s story is linked to an ex boyfriend, Jack. His story goes back in time to 1975, and there is a complicated and moving story attached to him which demonstrates among other things the power of friendship. Another section reverts to wartime, and a shock for a young woman called Florence. A story of intrigue emerges which takes in journeys to Amsterdam during the Second World War. This is a read which is memorable for its multi layered approach and more. It is a gripping section which has so many implications for the rest of the novel. It is about disappearances and realisations, images that linger in the mind. It is moving and significant so many ways, as Florence discovers so much about her life and more. 

This book manages to combine tension and significant discoveries with very real tragedy. The interconnectedness is carefully constructed, conveyed both by major plot developments and tiny hints, small details that are discovered by various characters, little pieces of evidence to be found by others much later. The possibilities of memories, deja vu and feelings of familiarity link characters who would otherwise remain in the dark. This is a novel which tackles head on the concept of  love and more surviving even death, as well as the sacrifices that people are willing to make for others, a concept introduced in the very first section. Secrets and lies, danger and attraction make this a novel which lingers in the memory. I recommend this book to anyone seeking a complex novel which manages to convey the power of love over several generations.    

City of Spies by Mara Timon – a young woman in a wartime city balancing on the edge of neutrality

 

Realistically exciting and a thriller which maintains a breathless pace, this is an adventure in wartime Europe which expands on the already fascinating stories of female Special Operations Executive heroines. Elisabeth de Mornay is a woman with an obscure past, a perilous present, and an uncertain future. Operating on several levels Elisabeth herself is trying to work out which identity is most effective in a country which is balancing its alliances between German forces, the allies headed by British interests, and the disparate interests of Russians, Spanish and other nationalities all jostling for space and influence as seen in the large number of refugees in a small country. Elisabeth has discovered the high cost of being an agent in France over some time, as the danger of getting close to people as well as the danger of betrayal has left her determined to survive in any way. This is a brilliantly researched novel which revels in the details of a setting intimately described, the clothes that much of rationed Europe could only dream of, and the food and drink that seems to be little affected by shortages. Going under various guises she must work out who, if anyone, she can trust, when no one is completely as they seem.  This is a well written book which I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review. 

 

The book opens with Cecile recalling her time in France as a “pianist” or radio operative. Partly lucky, partly because she is brave and resourceful, she has survived thus far, but one more betrayal has propelled her to seek sanctuary with an older woman even though her very presence is a threat. Her training means that she knows when she is being followed, and what to do in hand to hand combat. She has an incredibly strong need to survive, which keeps her going even when under fire. A chance encounter leads to a whole new set of problems, and means that she turns up in Lisbon in June 1943. Her new setting means a new role with an old contact in a new context, an encounter which exposes several facts about her background. Slipping into the  role of a mysterious French widow who has recently arrived in Lisbon as a refugee from occupied France, she has the house, clothes and identity fabricated for her, but her own preparations means that she goes further to create other disguises in case of need. As she begins to blend in with a society of refugees and transitory residents of a country balancing on the edge of neutrality, the gossip, jealousies and dangers of a confusing place mean that she must constantly adjust her assumptions about those around her.

 

This is a book that is virtually impossible to put down when engaged with the adventures of a remarkable woman. I enjoyed Elisabeth’s story in France as she takes on huge challenges, but it is in Lisbon among a community of potential spies and military from Germany and other enemies that the narrative really comes alive as she must try to double guess everyone who she meets. The setting is beautifully described; the cafes, the parties, the streets and the countryside all come alive in glorious detail. The character of Elisabeth is a wonderful one, as she uses her intelligence and cunning to prepare as much as possible for threats and attempts on her life. A fast moving and enjoyable story with a warmth of personality which is memorable, I thoroughly recommend this remarkable novel. 

I feel really proud to be starting the blog tour for this wonderful book. In the back of the book there is an historical note about the elements of the story as researched by the author, and a question and answer section which gives more details about the writing of the novel. These additional sections are fascinating and well worth a read in their own right.

Warriors for the Working Day by Peter Elstob – the reality of tank warfare from the Imperial War Museum

A novel of war written from a human point of view, this is a book which moves along at an impressive pace. Originally published in 1960, it has just been republished in the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series, a worthy addition to that series. It is a very human story, of men in confined spaces, going into action and facing many challenges. This appears to be an accurate picture of war as it was fought, stretching from the invasion of Normandy by the allied forces in 1944 right through to the movement into Germany. This book was written as a fictionalised account of a man’s actual experience of the action to liberate north – west Europe. Featuring a small number of men who are in the various tanks in a troop, the cast of characters changes for various reasons, but throughout Michael Brook is the character who travels from enthusiastic new warrior to battle hardened commander. This is an extremely well written novel with a dynamic sense of action which carries throughout the book. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.

 

As the novel begins, Sergeant Donovan is in command of the tank, and is attempting to ensure that the four members of his crew work together to create a unit that can fight and survive. Donovan has a lot of experience of battles in various theatres of war, and has gone through various emotions of cynicism, bravery and is now in the reality of fear. He knows that the big battles are coming in Europe, and he knows that he will have to summon every ounce of his courage to survive. He realises that having won two medals almost without conscious bravery, he is hitting the bottom of his mental reserves. He works out that his crew were “only thirteen or fourteen years old when it all began”, and that Brook, his second in command, is only nineteen now. The various policies of staffing the tanks is a theme throughout the novel, as the need to balance untried young men with experienced older combatants is attempted. Brook soon realises that part of the price of leadership is the reality of no longer being an equal in the eyes of the other men, and as he rises through the ranks he knows he must make decisions that could cost lives. The impulse to volunteer is discussed, as the more dangerous positions for the tank are endured. As the tanks progress through the countryside, they are challenged by German troops withdrawing. These are not set piece battles but struggles through territory that may or may not be treacherous. The people who have been liberated as the Germans withdraw present their own challenges, as they wish to show their gratitude in various ways. Brook and the other men are continually tempted and distracted, but when fighting they must endure days and nights without rest, food and respite from fighting. 

 

This book has a transparent honesty and vital speed which propels the characters through many experiences both in terms of fighting and taking leave in Britain. Though not a huge fan of “War” novels, this is a book about humans being pushed to the limits of their endurance and courage. There is an irony in some of the events as danger is not always obvious. I was reminded that many of these men facing potential death and dangerous danger were very young. There are hints of humour, understanding and empathy, and the reality of experience. I recommend this novel to those who are interested in human experience and the reality of war.

 

I do have memories of my father mentioning incidents from his progress across the Europe as infantry transport, so I found this book particularly fascinating. It is the sixth book I have read in this series of books from the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series, and I would recommend all of them for real insights into the experience of war in various forms, and I look forward to reading and reviewing more.

Patrol by Fred Majdalany – An Imperial War Museum Wartime Classic of enormous power

 

This is a book not published until 1953, but it has its roots in the real lived experience of a soldier in wartime. The author almost uses his chief protagonist, Major Tim Sheldon, to relate some of his own experiences, struggle and frustrations of leading a patrol. Not that this is a heavy book; it recounts the realities of being stuck in a hospital and his tentative exploration of Algiers’ night life, the conversations with other soldiers, the thoughts that go through a soldier’s mind when he knows he must just move forward. It is a testament to the mistakes and inefficiencies of an army unit which is short of men to maintain a position, let alone mount an offensive. It is the story of little details that make an unusual situation feel like the only one possible. Its stream of consciousness style feels more modern than its date would suggest; this is an honest  view of life in the war.

 

 Sheldon thinks of himself as having been born in 1939 with the outbreak of war; he has no ties back in Britain, he has no memories or experiences that have prepared him for this totally immersive experience of war. Exhaustion, world weariness, the need to do his duty to the best of his ability is what dominates his thoughts. This is a book that covers a time period of only some twenty four hours, with a prolonged account of an earlier experience, and its comparatively short length packs a well executed punch that will linger in the memory. As a choice of a book to republish by the Imperial War Museum Classics series, it is a well written and powerful experience in fiction.

 

The Captain who suggests that the patrol takes place picks it on a whim, while really thinking about something else; thus a life or death situation is plucked out of the air. It soon emerges that the Battalion in this particular position is woefully undermanned. It has seen so much action over a short few months that casualties have been relatively heavy, that there have been tiny numbers of reinforcements, that there is an enormous dependence on a very few officers of any experience. Many of the junior officers are very young, in their mid twenties but prematurely aged, exhausted mentally and physically. The medical officer warns of a deep battle weariness, but the numbers and need override his arguments. Sheldon goes out to establish his route, but as he does so he recalls his experience of being wounded in a previous skirmish, being moved back to a hospital in Algiers, and encountering the most graceful of nurses. He recalls his innocence and contiving to have a good time, even if it shocks more modern readers. This is the idealism of an alternative life, a grasping for something different, a memorable era in a challenging life.

 

By its nature this is a male dominated book, but it speaks to anyone who has had experience of going beyond what is comfortable and safe, of pushing on despite exhaustion. I found it a short and incredibly powerful read, a memorable testimony of what was a terrible situation. It is so well written, reflecting Sheldon’s voice though not narrated by him, a strong book of war and humanity.

 

The Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series is an important project to make available novels written from war. This is the fifth book I have reviewed in this series, and have found it a series which has encompassed quite a variety eve within that small number. Well worth keeping an eye open for – not a niche series at all!

 

 

Night in the Front Line and other Second World War Stories selected by Ann-Marie Einhaus

Night in the Front Line and Other Second World War Stories: Amazon ...

 

This is a collection of short stories relating to the time and circumstances of the Second World War. It includes some well known authors’ stories, and one or two of the stories have featured in other collections, including Persephone’s. The Introduction points out that “Short stories offer a fascinating insight into everyday concerns on the various front lines” including the humour, the despair and confusion”. Divided into four parts: Looking Back, Civilians and War Workers, Combatants, and Looking Ahead, the time frame of these stories stretches from before the War, the Home Front, those actually fighting, and the immediate aftermath. Each story captures something of the main character’s feelings in the time and place that they find themselves in, the confusion and the reality. They are all totally authentic, written of a time and place unlike anything experienced before or since. These stories reflect much of the humour and many sides of a War that affected so many in a huge variety of ways. 

 

The first three stories are all by women, including the well known story “The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen, are all about the build up and the early part of the war with many memories of the previous conflict in 1914 – 1918. They are typified by fear, but also an awareness that things have moved on, with standards having changed and now a different involvement for those still in Britain. This feeling is amplified in the next section, as civilians face the challenges of actual danger, bombs and a revolution in farming methods. Combatants see the administrative mess of war which affects life before battle in the funny and frustrating “I Had to Go Sick”. In contrast the next story reflects the confusion of war and the cost of fighting on different fronts. One of the strongest stories is from Roald Dahl which details a genuine combat experience in a strange and memorable way.  The author Elizabeth Taylor’s story illustrates the effects of the war which goes beyond damaged houses and is a subtle, insightful observation.

 

This is a fascinating and illuminating book with a collection of stories that cover a full range of emotions, time and circumstances. It gives a series of literary windows into a significant time in British history, and the variety of writers is a well chosen mix between the well known and lesser known. As with the British Library’s other series such as the Crime Classics, there are stories here that are more difficult to find from other sources. The Introduction, by the person who selected the stories, Ann-Marie Einhaus, points out several interesting factors about short stories at the time of the Second World War. These include the fact that such stories lent themselves to reading in fragmented sessions, as both those actually fighting as well as those at home were frequently disturbed by bombing. There is also the fact that there were shortages of paper, so publishing short impactful stories was economically preferable to longer works. As a fan of writing during wartime I found this a really fascinating read and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in mid twentieth century writing. 

 

I do enjoy writing from the time of the actual war, and happily some publishers have reprinted books from the time and so made them easily available. Persephone list twenty one books from the period on their website, including ration friendly recipes, letters and novels of the time. See http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/grey-books-53/wwii/  for more details. Dean Street Press have published novels by women writers from the time under the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint, as well as murder mysteries from various authors. Their website is https://www.deanstreetpress.co.uk/ I am unsure how they are coping with the current situation, but check with their websites for more details. For example, I think Persephone are beginning to process their orders again. Some booksellers can obtain books and get them posted out. These smaller publishers will need our support as well as contemporary authors and independent bookshops, so this could be a good time to create a wish list (or is that just me?)