In brief: The real diary of May Smith, school teacher, during World War II in Britain.
The good: Loved the way May carried out despite continually interrupted sleep and how she juggled her admirers!
The not-so-good: Sometimes you don’t find out what happened to the other people – but this is May’s diary after all!
Why I chose it: Sounded really interesting, so I bought it
Publisher: Virago Press
I first recall reading about this book in a magazine – a son had discovered his mother’s wartime diaries and had edited them into a book. I thought this sounded fascinating (as I quite enjoy reading about real life experiences during World War II) so I bought it and promptly forgot about it.
That was quite stupid of me – this diary is wonderfully entertaining and the coolest thing about it is that it’s someone’s real life. No plotlines, no structure, just everything real. The interesting thing about it is the diaries do have a plot – this is of a lady falling in love and doing her best to stay alive and happy as bombs rain down and stockings become rare sightings.
May is a schoolteacher in an English village – she doesn’t appear to enjoy teaching a great deal at first (given the huge size of her classes and the way they cancel school holidays during the war, it’s of little wonder!). Her diary is filled with the day to day life of a young girl – there’s lots of shopping (May goes into great detail about her clothes buying, which I loved), tennis playing (with an unwanted suitor hanging around) and boys. May cunningly has two men on the go – Freddie and Dougie. Freddie, now a forecaster, turns up sporadically to take May to dances and then more often. Dougie is rarely seen with May, living far away but with a lot of fruit, vegetables and poultry to share with her family. (This appears to be the war equivalent of sending designer clothes and accessories). One of the ‘plots’ I really enjoyed was trying to figure out which man May would marry, as her family and friends all seemed to have definite but conflicting ideas.
Another part of the war that May describes in great detail are the bombing raids. Night after night, the air raid sirens would sound and they would all tramp off to Grandma’s cellar. Perhaps May would get one or two hours sleep before returning to school and then it would begin all over again that night. It’s interesting to read as time progresses, May becomes more blasé about the whole thing, sometimes not even bothering to go downstairs.
May writes with a wonderfully acerbic wit that had me giggling. She appears to be a true modern woman, not marrying until after 30 and continuing to work after her marriage. It’s wonderful that this diary was preserved and allowed to be read by modern readers – it just goes to show how things change and how they stay the same!