Domestic Soldiers

Sue Wingrove on a social history of women in the Second World War

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Reviewed by: Sue Wingrove
Author: Jennifer Purcell
Publisher: Constable
Price (RRP): £12.99

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This book draws upon original research at the archives of Mass Observation, the project that recorded ordinary life from the 1930s onward. It looks at the Second World War through the eyes of a group of the housewives who kept diaries for Mass Observation during that period.

Besides detailing their daily domestic struggles, the diarists also recorded their opinions on a variety of topics (such as rationing, the increase in adultery and the British Union of Fascists).

They confided their fears and hopes and described the roller coaster of emotions that they experienced at the highs and lows of the Second World War.

Domestic Soldiers is organised around the diarists’ reactions to a series of dramas, including the outbreak of the war, the Blitz and the Allies’ liberation of Belsen concentration camp. The diarists’ comments are put into context with a brief but useful outline of important events on the wider stage.

Overall, this is an enjoyable and rewarding social history of the war.

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Sue Wingrove is the former deputy editor of BBC History Magazine