Published by Pen & Sword Books on July 10, 2017
Genres: Cultural, Social
This reviewer has read a number of histories of the home fronts of Britain, the U.S., and France, and this oral history is by far the most fascinating. Authors van Emden and Humphries conducted about a hundred interviews from the late 1990s until the early 2000s with people who had grown up in Britain during the war. This rich trove of experience forms the core of the book, but the authors supplemented it with letters, diaries, and earlier recorded interviews. The chapters are a harmonious blend of distinct topics and a chronological approach. The oral histories bring alive such diverse topics as the shelling of East Coast cities by the German Navy, hunger and poverty, the poor treatment of people of German descent, the Zeppelin and airplane raids on Britain, the care of the wounded, the experiences of munitions workers, etc. The chapter “It is my painful duty…”, where the interviewees recount how they were notified of the deaths of their fathers or older brothers, is absolutely heart-wrenching to read.
This is a story about the home front from the perspective of children and teenagers, and a story primarily told by women. This reviewer did not find either of these demographic situations to be a weakness of this book. These oral histories are powerful enough to stand on their own, in addition to the fact that the interviewees often also recounted their parents’ perspectives on these events. If you’re going to buy only one book on the British home front, it should be this one.
Reviewed by Steve Suddaby, past president of WW1HA who In the 1990s interviewed about 40 people who had lived through the Zeppelin raids on Hull, England.