Thursday, February 13, 2014

Update: Wartime women (and a pair of confusions)

I recently looked back over my ever-growing list of World War II-related writings and found I still hadn't added a bunch of authors—mostly memoirists or diarists of the period.  So I am rectifying that oversight here. 

Iris Carpenter

IRIS CARPENTER and HILDE MARCHANT were both trailblazing journalists who covered some of the hottest hot spots of the war at a time when women journalists were usually restricted to quieter and safer journalistic pursuits, and wrote about their experiences in No Woman's World (1946) and Women and Children Last (1941), respectively. The former is one of the women noted in Nancy Caldwell Sorel's book The Women Who Wrote the War, which has been on "to read" list forever.  Marchant seems to have become even more buried in the sands of time, but also sounds intriguing.

ZELMA KATIN and BARBARA NIXON, meanwhile, had experiences every bit as harrowing back on the home front, working as a conductress and a London air raid warden, respectively, and their accounts in 'Clippie': The Autobiography of a War Time Conductress (1944) and Raiders Overhead (1943) make for fascinating reading.  RACHEL KNAPPETT's experiences as a Land Girl—described in A Pullet on the Midden (1946)—were less gruesome but no doubt just as strenuous.

CONSTANCE TOMKINSON's wartime life may have been strenuous, too, but in a rather different way—she tells of her experiences as a dancer in wartime Europe in Les Girls (1956).  And the first volume of RUBY THOMPSON's just-published Blitz diaries—World War II London Blitz Diary (2013)—continues the story, begun in Ruby: An Ordinary Woman (1995), of an unhappily-married woman whose diary was her outlet.  It promises to offer a highly personal view of domestic life during wartime.

I also came across one additional author from World War I who seems like a fascinating figure.  VIOLETTA THURSTAN served as a Red Cross nurse throughout the war, and earned quite an array of honors for bravery and devotion.  Field Hospital and Flying Column (1915) was a journal of her service in Belgium and Russia, and late in life she published a memoir of the war, The Hounds of War Unleashed (1978).

And, back to World War II, I recently remembered some humorous works written by poet VIRGINIA GRAHAM (whose lovely wartime poems were collected by Persephone in Consider the Years 1938-1946), which qualify her for my list.  One of them, Here’s How (1951), was discussed by Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book back in 2011.  And this led me to remember that Graham had a lifelong correspondence with actress and comedienne JOYCE GRENFELL, and I recalled that Grenfell also wrote memoirs of her experiences during the war, as well as other humorous works.  So, appropriately enough, the two close friends are together in this update.

Joyce Grenfell

Finally, I’m adding two pairs of authors who caused me some confusion.  One of the writers does have a WWII connection, but otherwise they don’t particularly fit any update theme.  I’m just including them here because I’m ready to give up on the minor mysteries that still linger around them.

First, there is the combo of WWII memoirist HILARY WAYNE, who wrote of her experiences with her daughter in the ATS, and JOAN MARY WAYNE BROWN, best known for her girls’ books under the name Mary Gervaise, but also the author of adult novels and romances under the pseudonym (you guessed it) Hilary Wayne.  At first, I assumed they must be the same person, but it seems that this can’t be.  Jenny Hartley says in her Hearts Undefeated that the memoirist was 56 when she joined the ATS, so she can hardly be the much younger Brown.  Oddly, the British Library suggests that memoirist Wayne was also a pseudonym, of someone called Flora Sturgeon, but I haven’t found any information under that name either.  In the end, the identical pseudonyms appear to be just a coincidence, and both authors are added below.

Then there is the mystery of MARGARET DALE, a long-lost novelist who published three intriguing novels in the early 1930s.  John Herrington, who successfully tracked down Mary Bell’s true identity, came up empty in his search for Dale, which must mean she is really and truly lost.  My own skills at tracking are nothing compared to John's, but a while back, I briefly harboured the delusion that I had located her, when I researched MARGARET J[ESSY]. MILLER, a children’s author whose married name was Dale.  But that would have been far too simple.  Although the ages worked—Miller could certainly have been a precocious young novelist at 22, before turning to children’s fiction later on—unfortunately Miller only married and became Margaret Dale in 1938, three years after the last Margaret Dale novel appeared.  Alas, tough is the row the researcher of obscure writers must hoe!  But both writers sound interesting, and both are included below.

The full list of new authors if below, and all have already been added to the main list.

(aka Mary Gervaise, aka Hilary Wayne, aka Bellamy Brown)

Best known for girls' school and pony books under the name Mary Gervaise, especially the Georgie series (1950-1965), and of dozens of adult novels and romances under her Wayne and Brown pseudonyms; the latter include Sweet And Kind (1947), No Star Is Lost (1956), and Solitaire (1962).

IRIS CARPENTER (1906-????)
(married names Scruby and Akers)

A trailblazing journalist who covered some of the critical events of World War II, including D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, Carpenter also published an important memoir, No Woman's World: On the Campaign in Western Europe, 1944-45, published in 1946.

MARGARET DALE (dates unknown)

More research needed; author of only three novels—Limited Variety (1933), Maze (1934), and Serena (1935); could conceivably be the same as Margaret J. Miller below, whose married name was Dale, but the latter married only in 1938, well after these novels appeared under that name.

Virginia Graham

(married name Thesiger)

Journalist and poet best known now for Consider the Years 1938-1946 (2000), humorous poems on wartime themes reprinted by Persephone; Graham also wrote a series of humorous books, including Say Please (1949), Here's How (1951), and A Cockney in the Country (1958).

JOYCE GRENFELL (1910-1979)
(née Phipps)

Well-known actress, comedian, and author of monologues and other humorous pieces; Grenfell's wartime journals were published as The Time of My Life: Entertaining the Troops (1988); her lifelong correspondence with Virginia Graham has been collected as Joyce and Ginnie (1997).

Joyce Grenfell in the 1953 film Genevieve

ZELMA KATIN (dates unknown)

Information about her life before and after World War II is sparse, but Katin's 'Clippie': The Autobiography of a War Time Conductress (1944) offers a unique perspective on home front life.

RACHEL KNAPPETT (dates unknown)

Best known for A Pullet on the Midden (1946), an "evocative, authentic and heartwarming" memoir of her experiences as a land girl in Lancashire, Knappett also published a subsequent memoir, Wait Now: Impressions of Ireland (1952), about her life in Ireland.

HILDE MARCHANT (dates unknown)
(aka Hilda Marchant)

A trail-blazing journalist for the Daily Mail, Marchant also published two significant books on the war—Women and Children Last: A Woman Reporter's Account of the Battle of Britain (1941) and The Home Front (1942); she had earlier made her name reporting on the Spanish Civil War.

(married name Dale)

Possibly (but not likely to be) the same as Margaret Dale above; children's author whose works often focused on Scotland; titles include Seven Men of Wit (1960), The Queen's Music (1961), Gunpowder Treason (1968), Plot for the Queen (1969), and The Far Castles (1978).


Author of Kiss the Girls Goodbye: On Life in the Women's Services (1944), a useful resource regarding women's roles during World War II; she later co-wrote what appears to be a travel book about the Soviet Union, The Sickle and the Stars (1948).

BARBARA NIXON (1908-????)
(married name Dobb)

Wife of Cambridge economist Maurice Dobb and actress in the Cambridge Festival Theatre, Nixon was an air raid warden during the Blitz and wrote dramatically of her experiences in Raiders Overhead (1943); the British Library credits her with another title, Jinnifer of London (1948).

MOLLY [MARY] RICH (????-1974)
(née Richardson)

Wife of Edward Rich, a prominent vicar, Molly's entertaining World War II letters have been collected as A Vicarage in the Blitz: The Wartime Letters of Molly Rich 1940-1944 (2010).

JOYCE STOREY (1917-2001)

Popular memoirist whose humorous and colorful work includes Our Joyce 1917-1939 (1987), Joyce's War (1990), and Joyce's Dream: The Post-War Years (1995); these three volumes were condensed into a one-volume edition called The House in South Road in 2004.

Ruby Thompson

RUBY [SIDE] THOMPSON (1884-1970)

Diarist who used her diaries as a release from an unhappy marriage; Thompson's prewar diaries were published as Ruby: An Ordinary Woman in 1995; her great-granddaughter has begun publishing her WWII diaries, starting with World War II London Blitz Diary (2013).

(full name Anna Violet Thurstan)

Novelist and Red Cross nurse; she wrote Field Hospital and Flying Column (1915), a journal of service in Belgium and Russia, while recovering from a shrapnel wound; she later wrote two novels, Stormy Petrel (1964) and The Foolish Virgin (1966), and a memoir, The Hounds of War Unleashed (1978).

(married name Weeks)

Daughter of a clergyman, Tomkinson debuted on Broadway at age 18; she remains best known for Les Girls (1956), a memoir of her time as a dancer in Europe during WWII; she wrote three more memoirs, African Follies (1958), What a Performance! (1962), and Dancing Attendance (1965).

HILARY WAYNE (dates unknown)
(pseudonym of Flora Sturgeon?)

Not to be confused with Joan Mary Wayne Brown, who sometimes wrote as Hilary Wayne, this author wrote a memoir, Two Odd Soldiers (1946), about her exploits with her daughter in the ATS during WWII; the British Library suggests this Wayne is a pseudonym for Flora Sturgeon, but I can't confirm.


  1. I so appreciate this post, Scott! These are exactly the books I dream about rooting out in dusty second-hand shops on the highest or lowest of shelves. My theory being that most people won't be bothered, leaving gems behind for rarely pans out though. I'm not put off though! Now I'm off to see about Ruby Thompson's books...

    1. Thank you, Darlene! Do let me know what you think of Ruby Thompson if you end up reading her diaries. I swear that someday I'm going to do a list of my favorite WWII lit, as there's just so much that is so good. It will happen eventually, but life has been just a bit too hectic of late...

  2. Lovely post, Scott - thank you! Reminds me of another fav blog,

    Author is Australian, so told from that part of the globe. But she might have interesting sources for more British authors known down under. One can but hope!


    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Del. The blog is great, and I see Deb herself has already chimed in below!

  3. Hi Scott, new to your blog. Particularly enjoyed this post - lots to look out for now! Deb

    1. Welcome, Deb, and thanks for your comment. I can see I will be spending a lot of time at your blog too--love the advertisements and the articles too. WWII writing by women is one of my particular interests, so I can't wait to explore more!

  4. Hi. Les Girls is, I guess, the source of the 1957 movie of the same name, starring Gene Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor and the wonderful and elegant Kay Kendall. You don't say anything about what happens in the book and I wonder if it's just the title and context - showgirls in Paris - that survive in the movie. Its plot, unfolding in flashback, is about three showgirls squabbling over a man. These days it's creaky but it has charm. It's available in full on YouTube for anyone who is curious.

    1. Hmmm, I actually never made the connection, though I remember reading about the film in a Cole Porter bio. I poked around a bit and found this on the TCM website:

      "The film's credits list Vera Caspary as author of the story and John Patrick as the screenwriter; however, contemporary and modern sources differ as to the origin of the source material for the film. According to information on the film contained in the M-G-M files at the USC Cinema-Television Archives, an article in the July 1955 Atlantic magazine entitled Les Girls by Constance Tomkinson, which was later expanded into a book of the same name, was used by M-G-M in its initial treatments for the film; however, no correspondence between the author and the studio has been found. The autobiographical writings were about Tomkinson, a Canadian clergyman's daughter, who spent several months in the chorus line of the Folies Bergre and toured Europe with various dance troupes. Review of the contents of the files reveal that Tomkinson's writings bear a few similarities to the film's screenplay, but key elements of the film Les Girls, for example, the libel suit and the three female leads' relationships, are not found in Tomkinson's works."

      So even if the movie isn't based on it, I know a bit more about Tomkinson's book now!


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