Extracts from the accounts written by four British civilians of the progress of World War II from their somewhat impeded viewpoints. The fascination of diaries: sent by current instalments to the keeping of the Mass Observation Project, they could not be re-written, polished, adjusted, moderated, or dramatised with the benefit of hindsight.
One of the writers in particular has a great eye for the odd and unpredictable – for example his account of ‘a pious old chap … who has been bitten by a crocodile and run over by a bus …’ enjoying an air raid through his ear trumpet so as not to miss anything.
The main impression given by all the writers is of the sheer daily awkwardness and difficulty of maintaining life, while war work and war weariness grind them down. A diarist summarised the somewhat double-edged effect: ‘If all the psychologists in the Kingdom had been given the job of devising a way of keeping the women folk from worrying about the war, they could never have devised anything that would do so more effectively than Lord Woolton and his points’ (i.e. the points system for food rationing).
The war ends, but very slowly; the end of the blackout seems to have been the most appreciated change. One author took down her blackout curtains, reflecting wryly: ‘What are we to do with the curtains now? … I think they could be cut down for knickers, and we would get enough pairs to last us both for twenty years.’ I’d love to know if she did.