Quaint. That’s how I’d describe this book. It’s like Miss Marple’s memoirs and should come complete with a cream tea, a copy of The Times and two scotty dogs… Or so I thought!
I used to joke with friends that my nan, Nanna Hodges, used to carry a .455 Webley service revolver around her home town of Dunstable in case the Luftwaffe should dare to drop in. It was slightly more effective than a bread knife on a broom handle or a kettle of boiling water. The fact is, it’s not a million miles from the truth. Those ‘left behind’ in Blighty had it bad and the fear of invasion or certainly the fear of death by bombing must have been very real indeed. To be honest when this book arrived I was a little dismissive at first. The cover of the book showed a blue rinsed OAP and was padded out with an air raid warden’s helmet, an ARP badge, gas mask and ration book.
Now, I’m not usually one for Home Front books but I did the decent thing and started to read. After an hour or two I was still reading and totally immersed in it. Ok, so the title is a little bit strange, granted, and it doesn’t do the book justice at all but don’t overlook it because of that. This is as pure as it comes. A handwritten account of what war was like and how It affected people in their everyday lives. In this case 66-year-old Helena Hall of Lindfield, West Sussex.
It is blunt and, at times, concise; but it is also truthful and unvarnished. There’s fear and humour mixed up and the more you read the closer to Helena Hall you become.
During WW2 this woman was in her sixties! She was no sprightly young thing during the Luftwaffe bombing raids and had memories of the First World War in her head. She was walking and talking at the time of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 and was in her teens during the 2nd Boer War. It’s interesting because she carries the whole stiff upper lip persona for most of her diary, it’s a trait that you’d expect from a woman privately educated yet at times it slips and you sense a worried woman tired of being born and living through not one but two World Wars. It would be easy to dismiss this book not just by its cover but also by it’s lack of actual military action. But if you do, you’ll be sorry and will miss a hell of a good read.
The history of The Second World War in the UK isn’t all about blood and guts as this Iron Lady proves. It’s not even about dog fights in the sky and daily bombings. For Helena It was about queuing, and food. It was about jumble sales to raise money for this fund or that for the war effort. It was about evacuees, shortages of clothes, food and petrol. It was about POWs, army camps, downed pilots and unexploded bombs.
For Helena Hall it was about daily living as best she could but more importantly it was about survival with dignity. Something I think we can all learn from today. Great Book. Fantastic Read. I Highly recommend it. More powerful than My nan’s .455.
Reviewed by Phil Hodges for War History Online
A WOMAN LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Helena Hall’s Journal From The Home Front.
By Helena Hall
Edited By Linda Grace and Margaret Nicolle
Pen & Sword