Monday, January 7, 2008

Wartime Experiences

I meant to blog about an article from Saturday's National Post which caught my eye, but forgot somehow, and was reminded anew by my blogpal Becky, who also blogged about this article. Small world!

For some reason, perhaps because my family hails from the UK, or because my mother was one of those kids sent overseas during WWII in order to avoid Hitler (she was 4, her sister was 5, imagine that), or because my maternal grandfather was a soldier in the war, I have always had a certain fascination in reading about personal war-time experiences from WWI and WWII. Reading detailed battle accounts, hmm, not so much, although we all willingly gathered night after night to watch father and son duo Peter and Dan Snow and their peculiarly British production Battlefield Britain (Max was studying the Battle of Hastings in his Famous Men of the Middle Ages work and this DVD series gives a dramatic re-enactment, handy for your average 10 year old boy). Reading individual stories or letters from someone involved in the war, or watching dramatic reproductions on TV, though, is another matter altogether. My kids and I sat spellbound through PBS's wonderful 1900's House, Channel 4's equally gripping but very bleak 1940's House, and now I'm reading a book I happened upon in our local Sally Ann, called Mrs. Milburn's Diaries: An Englishwoman's Day-to-Day Reflections 1939-45. Mrs. Milburn, from what little I've read so far, did not experience the war quite as desperately as did the characters in 1940's House, but it's a great read, if only to see the unending stiff upper lip the Brits are famous for.

So, anyhow, I was quite intrigued to see this article in the Post, entitled "History in real time." By the way, for reasons I do not understand, the original article, taken from The Daily Telegraph, is not in the Post's archives, but the link (which I borrowed from Becky's article, thanks Becky!) is the same article that appeared in the Post. Like Mrs. Milburn's grandson-in-law, who found her diaries in a long-forgotten box in the attic and managed to publish them, Bill Lamin, of Cornwall, decided to post his grandfather's war-time letters home, but instead of publishing them in a book, Bill Lamin is using the blog format. Even more interestingly, he's publishing them in real time, which makes for somewhat excruciating reading if you are like me and want to know the end already. It's impressive and poignant to see how stoic Private Harry Lamin was in his letters. Here is one excerpt, dated 3rd October, 1917:

"Just a line to let you know I’m going on all right...what do you think Fritz came over about 5 o’clock next morning...but we beat him off...they brought liquid fire with them and bombs and all sorts...and the captain got killed a jolly good fellow too...We have just been given a long trousers again as we have had had Short ones all summer. I hope you are going on alright as was pleased to hear you are keeping in good health"

Mr. Lamin has compiled all the readers' comments into another blog, that you can access via a link on the blog page, and even that makes for engrossing reading. One reader dug up a record (?!) about Private Lamin's son Arthur, for whom there seemed to be no records and was presumed to have died in infancy.

I'll leave you to read about Private Lamin's war-time experiences on your own, and close with an excerpt from Mrs. Milburn's diary. In keeping with Mr. Lamin's habit, I'll use an excerpt with today's date:

Tuesday, 7th January (1941)

A peaceful night as far as air raids went, but alas for the Master of the House - a cold and chill through the night and then a great upheaval in the early morning. Very poorly indeed, poor dear, so we rang up the doctor-man and kept him in bed all day on a very light diet.


Becky said...

Lovely and intriguing post -- and much better than what I slapped up hastily (I didn't spend too much time looking for the story, just grabbed the first wire service link). May I ask where your mother and sister were sent?

I keep meaning to watch Hope & Glory again to see if it would be suitable for the kids. I haven't seen it since it first came out... And thanks for the reminders about 1900s/1940s House, I can get them through ILL.

sheila said...

Thanks,Becky. I really was transfixed by that article, but forgot completely about it (out digging in the sunny garden for a change was just TOO thrilling, I suppose).

I loved Hope and Glory, but I can't remember if there were any risque parts. I'm sure there were a few!

My mother and aunt were from London, and their 18 year old mother (my Nanna) sent them off to Canada, with the stipulation that they remain together. Sadly, no one wanted 2 girls (not so good as farm hands) and they went all the way across Canada before ending up on Vancouver Island, in BC. Incredible, really. My lovely, willful Nanna, for whom the war meant a welcome release from her poverty-struck life as a young Cockney mum, sent the girls off because, as she later told me, people of her social class were told that if they didn't they were considered Bad Citizens. Her sister, conversely, was unable at the last minute to send her only child, a girl, off, and they remained together throughout the war. Odd story, really. I just can't imagine sending off a 4 and 6 year old to another country. But, as my poppa liked to say "desperate times called for desperate measures."

Andrea said...

The best book I ever read about the war (although it was WWI was Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden which I read outloud to my then 12 year old son. There were some parts that I couldn't read out loud...