Tuesday, February 1, 2011

From Nella Last's War

I have been reading Nella Last's War : The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49. Housewife, 49 is a reference to what was written at the top of her first entry, the number representing her age.  The diaries were written as part of the Mass Observation project, set up in 1937, to capture "the voice of the people".  It is such interesting reading. 

Here are a couple of entries that jumped out at me on the 'simple life'.

Saturday 27 January 1940

........Isa Hunter came in - only the next road away - and brought her knitting.  She must be lonely, poor thing, to leave her cosy fireside on a night like this.  One thing I've noticed since the war: what a lot of people - mostly women - seem to have no resources of their own to fall back on.  My generation had no wireless and few pictures, so perhaps we had to find other things - particularly when we lived in the country, as I often did with Gran.  We took the opportunity of being alone to wash our hari (now no girl seems to wash her own), mend a pile of stockings (stockings today do not stand much mending), sew buttons on - but then again, there are few buttons to sew on underwear.  Older women shredded vegetables for the following day's soup, but now its all tinned soup.  They gladly used to read yesterday's newspaper, if they had not had time before.  There were always oddments of embroidery or sewing, or letters to be written, and a few hours alone were a boon and a blessing. We liked to sit down and relax by the fire and think things out - to plan menus and shopping lists.  Of course, living today is in every way more exciting and thrilling; but where today it's as if people snatch a piece of rich Christmas cake and eat it, with creamed coffee, on top of a good dinner, we took our cake and ate it slowly, savouring each mouthful and finding time to think how wonderful it was that the ingredients came from so many different far-off places.

Friday 22 November 1940
I fear I've had my last perm........Ah well!  It's only a matter of thinking, and girls were just as pretty when I was young, although we washed our hair with soft soap once a week, rinsed it with a dash of vinegar in the last rinse if we were dark - or an infusion of a tenth of a pennyworth of camomile flowers if fair - and rubbed the shine off our noses with a scrap of chamois leather when we went dancing!


  1. I absolutely adore anything WWII I'll have to check it out, thanks!

  2. Hi--thanks for your note on my blog. It is so nice to know who is reading! I saw this book on Jennie Wren's blog and very much want to read it. Glad for the reminder!

  3. hi, I have just stumbled across your blog (via Rhonda's down to earth blog) and I wanted to say hi and I enjoyed reading. Kas