The good: Fascinating, captures the horror of wartime as well as the nuisances (e.g. few fruit and vegetables).
The not-so-good: I think this is a book to be savoured in small doses. Reading large amounts at a time diluted the impact for me.
Why I chose it: Enjoy both war diaries and the beautiful Persephone Books.
Year: 1999 (originally 1976)
Publisher: Persephone Books
Few Eggs and No Oranges is a diary that I’ve been reading for some time – months in fact. Considering that I usually read two to three books a week, you might think that I didn’t like this book. Unfortunately, you’d be completely wrong because I really enjoyed this real-life diary of life as a Londoner during World War II and I wanted to savour each entry. It gives an account that is harrowing, scary and ultimately joyful of how the everyday English man and woman lived during the war. How sometimes they’d go to bed not knowing whether they’d wake up in a pile of rubble – or not at all – or wouldn’t sleep for days on end due to the bombs falling on the city. Hodgson doesn’t write everyday (the diary was originally letters to her cousin Lucy in Rhodesia) but she gives accounts of the mundane (no colanders to be bought for love or money) to the terrifying (silent bombs). The entries are wonderful accounts of the day to day life of a woman trying to work, look after family and have a social life while war rages around her.
The diary starts in June 1940 and ends with VE Day in May 1945. It is as expected, predominantly focused on the war in Europe, not so much in the Pacific and on the people of Europe (again to be expected – would you think about a war half a world away when you and everyone you know are having bombs rained on them). I think this aspect was beneficial for me, as being Australian I know more about the Pacific side of things than the European front. Vere’s diary demonstrates just how perilous day to day life was for the average person in London. Initially, there would be bombs all night (and towards the end of the war, during the day too) and people would be calculating how far away bombs had fallen and who had ‘copped it’. Vere herself goes out on weekends to see the damage – department stores, churches, theatres – it seems like most of London was devastated. She also mentions when going home to Birmingham for holidays how ‘normal’ it was to wait hours and hours for a train – then to stand squished in the corner for the hours-long journey. There are also the little things we don’t think about – the disappearance of fish, fruits and vegetables to buy – even eggs are a rare treat for those in the city. Vere and her friends have treats that they save up for a party or victory, things that we’d take for granted, such as butter. It is humbling to read of people living as normally as possible when faced with death on a regular basis.
Another thing that shines through is Vere and England’s faith in Churchill. She mentions his broadcasts and reflects on them extensively, in addition to his meetings with various other politicians. It’s interesting to contrast her faith in him with how we feel about our modern day politicians – I think that we would not be as confident in their action and motivations, or perhaps as patriotic. It also made me wonder how important Churchill was to motivating and maintaining the morale of the English was. It sounds like an awful time, but Vere and her friends and family manage to have a giggle, parties and weddings.
I enjoyed this extensive diary of wartime London and felt I had a better understanding of what life was like during this time. Thanks Vere.