Sunday 22 September 2019

These Wonderful Rumours!

I do like Home Front diaries.  May Smith was a 25 year old school teacher living with her parents in 1939.  She kept a journal which is fresh and uplifting to read despite the devastating impact of WW2.  When the air raid sirens started - often in the early hours of the morning - she had to get out of bed along with her parents, grab her gas mask and go to her grandparents' house next door and sit in their cold cellar for two or three hours.  Only when the all-clear was given could she go back to bed and still have to get up early the next day to teach classes of 48-60 children including evacuees. 

May was a voracious reader and meticulously records her reading lists in her diary.  She loved Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Code of the Woosters and avidly read The Provincial Lady which was then serialised in Time and Tide magazine.  She mimics E M Delafield's style rather well:
Wednesday May 22nd 1940 Mrs W has finished my voile frock, in which I duly paraded.  It's very sweet, I think.  It's trimmed with blue velvet ribbons and little mauve pearl buttons.  Mother took one look and remarked without enthusiasm that That Sort of Dress Looks Nothing without A Lot of Sun.  Very dampened by this remark, but still like it very much.
Fond of tennis, she played regularly and rode her bike around the village. She had two admirers and also pined a little for another who rejected her.  There is a constant ongoing battle with the local dressmaker who never completes her tennis dresses, coats and day dresses on time and her love of clothes is severely curtailed when ration books come in.  Proud of working and earning money she nevertheless lives from one pay packet to another and her father regularly subsidises her.  I loved her father who teases her about her choice of hats referring to one hat as a 'pigeon trap' and can't control his mirth when he first sees May and her mother in their gas marks.

Bombs fell close to home, and just when May was getting blasé about the air raid sirens preferring to stay in bed than go down into the cold cellar there were huge explosions close by.  May's family also had a lodger who was a Conchie (Conscientious Objector) who suffered abuse from the villagers.  One diary entry tells of a 'woman just over 30 who lost her boy at Dunkirk and is only just recovering, and it has sent her quite grey. She has to rest in the afternoons.'

But life goes on and there are wartime romances and wedding cakes with cardboard icing because of the rations.  May decides between her two admirers and chooses Freddie (although I rather liked the other one, Doug).  May's diary is a delight to read and her youth and humour and exuberance speaks to us across the years.