Thursday, 14 May 2015

War Diaries

Quite by accident I found myself deeply immersed in Simon Garfield's We Are At War book last week at the time of the VE day anniversary.  For those of you unfamiliar, it is the collected diaries of five "ordinary" people from around Britain during the first year of WWII.  Whilst reading it I realised that this book is actually the fifth war time diary I've read in the past few years and what with all remembrances happening in the past week, it seemed like now would be a good time to share them with you.

What I like most about We Are At War is the fact that you get five different perspectives on the same events.  You also get some quite surprising views from some of the writers - strong dislike of Churchill, sympathy for Hitler (at least until the bombs start dropping), lots of "defeatist" thinking, things that don't really spring to mind when I imagine the home front.  I really can't recommend this book enough for getting a good feel of the general mood in England and Scotland 1939 - 40.

Marie Vassilitchikov was a Russian princess who found herself trapped in Germany at the outbreak of war and started working in the German foreign ministry.  From there she becomes involved (peripherally) with the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler.  It's been more than a few years since I read this and the finer details have been forgotten in the interim, but I found this book to be a gripping and enjoyable read.  If you'd like a much more detailed review, I found this one from the NY Times.

This is another diary from inside the Nazi state, but from a Jewish perspective.  Volume 1 (I haven't read Volume 2 which takes us through the bulk of the war years) starts the year Hitler becomes chancellor and shows the noose slowly getting tighter around the necks of those with Jewish connections (Klemperer was a Baptist, though ethnically Jewish).  If you don't mind reading off the computer, I found this link to the first two years of the book.

I got Ruby Side Thompson's London Blitz Diary for free on my Kindle.  It was an interesting enough read, but the enduring memory I have of it is her incessant complaining about her husband.  Still, it gives an insight into London life in the early days of the war.  I'm actually thinking it might be worth reading this one simultaneously with We Are At War since they cover roughly the same time frame.

My last war diary is Jean Whitear's 1945 World War 2 WAAF Diary.  This is another free Kindle book and perhaps not one for the casual reader as the entries are mostly one or two sentences long (for example: "Tuesday 2nd - On night duty with Elsie.  Talk of patrol in, bed at 1 o'clock, washed my hair").  In my opinion this doesn't make for a very good read, but that's just me.  

So, anybody else out there read any good WWII diaries?  I'd love to have some suggestions.

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