Tuesday, April 28, 2015

WORLD WAR II BOOK LIST (1 of 6) (updated 5/15/2016)

I know what you're thinking: Didn't Furrowed Middlebrow already spend a lot of time and a whole slew of posts putting together a War List? Is he getting senile or what?

Vere Hodgson

And indeed, the answer to the first question (and, I sometimes fear, the second question as well) is yes. I did dedicate four whole posts last year to a War List, organized by author and briefly (or not so briefly, you know me) discussing works by British women writers 1910-1960 that dealt prominently with either of the World Wars.

Which was all very well and good. But I remained discontented.

I decided that, for my own purposes, I wanted a simpler list of World War II books. For one thing, I've always been drawn more to World War II titles than World War I titles. But it was also about the organization of my original list. I found I wanted something more like a reading list, organized by a few sub-headings and including only the briefest explanation of each title to jog my memory. Such a list wouldn't require scanning my sometimes effusive prose about each author's entire body of war-related work to find the title I was looking for. Then, while I was poking around creating such a list, one day I was also trying to remember a memoir I knew I'd read about but just couldn't recall who had written it (senility again…), and I realized that a list of World War II memoirs and diaries should also be included.

Ida Cook (aka Mary Burchell) on a postwar episode of This Is Your Life

This was the birth of the present list—or set of lists. And I had actually worked on it for some time before I even thought of sharing it with you lovely readers. I was afraid it would just seem duplicative and even tiresome to you (and it still may). But when it started to come together and I thought it seemed useful, and even started to unearth some additional titles that I hadn't known about for the original War List, I decided that it might be of value to some of you as well. So here it is, for whatever it's worth.

The list is sorted by genre and period rather than by author, and it really divided itself pretty intuitively into six sections that make sense to me (hopefully to you as well):

          1) Diaries/Memoirs
          2) Fiction: The Approach of War and Early Days
          3) Fiction: The Thick of It
          4) Fiction: The Immediate Postwar
          5) Fiction: Retrospective (published after 1950)
          6) Other Non-fiction (miscellaneous / historical / anthologies / critical)

Looking at the section headings now, they seem rather neat and logical, but in fact there are complications in dividing books into categories, no matter how you do it. The first section is relatively a no-brainer, apart from an occasional question about whether a book should count as journalism or as memoir. But sections 2-5 are an effort to capture the changing mood and tone of writings about the war. I'll discuss each of those briefly as I post them, to try to explain my rationale for dividing them up as I have.

Of course, I'm also going to seize this opportunity to inflict my own personal opinions onto these lists (or perhaps I should say to generously offer my own recommendations?). I can't resist selecting my five personal favorites from each section of the list, and I definitely ask all of you to feel free to take me to task for overlooking your own faves or tell me what I'm missing.

So, without further ado, here are my selections for this section (see the original War List for more information about each):


VERILY ANDERSON, Spam Tomorrow (1956)
MARY BURCHELL (pseudonym of IDA COOK), We Followed Our Stars (1950, aka Safe Passage)
FRANCES FAVIELL, A Chelsea Concerto (1959) (reviewed here)
VERE HODGSON, Few Eggs and No Oranges (1976)
JOAN WYNDHAM, Love Lessons (1985)

Now, believe me, it's not easy narrowing down to five titles here. It was particularly traumatic not listing Nella Last's diaries here or Mollie Panter-Downes' wonderful London War Notes (perhaps not technically a memoir, but wonderful anyway). And I can only justify excluding two of my favorite memoirs, period—Rumer Godden's A Time To Dance, No Time To Weep (1987) and Dorothy Whipple's Random Commentary: Books and Journals Kept from 1925 Onwards (1966)—because both range considerably beyond the war years.

Frances Partridge

But so be it—those are my five favorites. What are yours?

And here's the whole list I've come up with for section 1. Let me know if I've forgotten anything. Or rather, let me know what I've forgotten.

D I A R I E S / M E M O I R S

MARGERY ALLINGHAM, The Oaken Heart (1941)

Golden Age mystery author's memoir of English village life in the early days of the war.

VERILY ANDERSON, Spam Tomorrow (1956)

Humorous account of love and marriage against the backdrop of war.

LUCILLA ANDREWS, No Time for Romance (1977)

Powerful memoir of wartime London by a nurse and future romance novelist. Relied upon by Ian McEwan in writing Atonement.

BETTY ARMITAGE, Betty's Wartime Diary 1939-1945 (2002)

War diary of a former theatrical dresser and seamstress.

ENID BAGNOLD, Autobiography (1969)

Memoir of the acclaimed and controversial novelist and playwright.

MONICA BALDWIN, I Leap Over the Wall: Contrasts and Impressions After Twenty-eight Years in a Convent (1949)

Memoir of a Catholic nun adapting to secular life again, with the twist that that her departure from the convent takes place in October, 1941.

SYBIL BANNISTER, I Lived Under Hitler (1957)

Details Bannister's wartime experiences as the wife of a German.

EVELYN BARK, No Time to Kill (1960)

Memoir including her war experiences, including her experience in the Red Cross as one of the first to enter Belsen concentration camp after the war.

E. M. BARRAUD, Set My Hand Upon the Plough (1945)

Covers Barraud's experiences in the Women's Land Army.

EDITHA L. BLAIKLEY, "No Soldier": The 1942 Diary of Miss Editha Blaikley of Wren Cottage (1992)

Diary of wartime life in a Sussex village, by a novelist and playwright.

SYBILLE BEDFORD, Quicksands: A Memoir (2005)

Novelist's autobiography, including her experiences during the war.

CHRISTABEL BIELENBERG, The Past Is Myself (1968)

Memoir of another German-by-marriage. Dramatized for television as Christabel.


Sequel to The Past Is Myself, dealing with the postwar years.

THEODORA BENSON, Sweethearts and Wives: Their Part in War (1942)

Illustrated book about women at war by the novelist and humorist.

URSULA BLOOM, War Isn't Wonderful (1961)

Prolific romance author's memoir of wartime life.

VIOLET BONHAM-CARTER, Champion Redoubtable: The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter, 1914-1945

Second volume of the diaries of the daughter of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, covering both World Wars.

PHYLLIS BOTTOME, The Mansion House of Liberty (1941)

Described as "snapshots of England at war" (aka Formidable to Tyrants).

VERA BRITTAIN, England's Hour (1941)

Testament of Youth author's memoir of the early days of WWII.

VERA BRITTAIN, Wartime Chronicle: Diary 1939-1945 (1989)

Brittain's diary of the war years.

BRYHER, The Days of Mars: A Memoir 1940-1946 (1972)

Recollections of the war by the historical novelist and supporter of the avant-garde.

MARY BURCHELL (pseudonym of IDA COOK), We Followed Our Stars (1950, aka Safe Passage)

Powerful memoir of the Cook sisters' trips into Nazi Germany just before WWII to help Jewish friends escape.

IRIS CARPENTER, No Woman's World: On the Campaign in Western Europe, 1944-45 (1946)

Account of the final days of the war in Europe by a trail-blazing journalist.

BARBARA CARTLAND, The Years of Opportunity: 1939-1945 (1948)

Prolific romance novelist's memoir of the war years.

DIANA COOPER, Trumpets from the Steep (1960)

Memoir of the war years by the famous Lady Cooper, who encountered many of the most prominent people of the time.

MARGARET CRISP, Utility Nurse (1947)

Details her wartime experiences as a Red Cross nurse.

THERESA DE KERPELY, Of Love and Wars (1984)

Memoir of her entire life, but including her dramatic wartime experiences in Budapest, including concealing, along with her cellist husband, a Jewish composer disguised as a priest.

ELIZABETH DENHAM, I Looked Right: On the Author's Experiences as a British Agent in France (1956)

Describes her adventures aiding the French resistance before and after she is captured after looking the wrong way before crossing a street.

MONICA DICKENS, One Pair of Feet (1942)

A sequel of sorts to One Pair of Hands, this one follows Dickens through the tribulations of nursing in wartime.

LEONORA EYLES, For My Enemy Daughter (1941)

A series of letters—which couldn't be sent—to Eyles' daughter, living in Italy with her Italian husband during the war years.

NAN FAIRBROTHER, Children in the House (1954)

Memoir of the author's experiences evacuating with her two sons from London to a house in the Buckinghamshire countryside.

FRANCES FAVIELL, A Chelsea Concerto (1959)

Vivid and powerful account of life in London during the Blitz. Essential reading.

FRANCES FAVIELL, The Dancing Bear (1954)

Memoir of life in Germany in the years immediately following the war.

RACHEL FERGUSON, Royal Burrough (1950)

Ferguson's humorous second memoir about life in Kensington (following the pre-war Passionate Kensington), this one covering the war years.


Popular cooking author's account of WWII and her life in Chelsea during the Blitz.

THEODORA FITZGIBBON, Love Lies a Loss (1985)

Second volume of memoirs, covers the postwar years.

WINIFRED FORTESCUE, Trampled Lilies (1941)

WINIFRED FORTESCUE, Beauty for Ashes (1948)

WINIFRED FORTESCUE, Laughter in Provence (1950)

Wartime entries in Fortescue's series of humorous memoirs about life in Provence.

CELIA FREMLIN, War Factory (1943)

Vivid account of wartime factory work, growing out of Fremlin's involvement with Mass Observation.

RUMER GODDEN, A Time To Dance, No Time To Weep (1987)

The first volume of her autobiography, including her dramatic and eventful time living in India during World War II.

JOYCE GRENFELL, The Time of My Life: Entertaining the Troops (1988)

Wartime journals by popular actress and comedian.

JOYCE GRENFELL, Darling Ma (1988)

Letters to her mother 1932-1944, including her wartime experiences.

CHARLOTTE HALDANE, Truth Will Out (1949)

Memoir of her experiences as a war correspondent for The Daily Sketch during World War II.

DOREEN HAWKINS, Drury Lane to Dimapur: Wartime Adventures of an Actress (2009)

Account of actress who entertained both in Britain and abroad during the war.

VERE HODGSON, Few Eggs and No Oranges (1976)

Incomparable diary of life in London during the war, reprinted by Persephone.

INEZ HOLDEN, It Was Different at the Time (1943)

Underrated novelist's memoir of the early years of the war.

HILDA HOLLINGSWORTH, They Tied a Label on My Coat (1991)

Recollections of a child evacuee during the war.

ANTONIA HUNT, Little Resistance: A Teenage English Girl's Adventures in Occupied France (1982)

The subtitle says it all!

FAY INCHFAWN, Salute to the Village (1943)

Christian-themed recollections of life in an English village in the first years of the war.

FAY INCHFAWN, Those Remembered Days (1964)

Late memoir in which Inchfawn also reflects on the war years.

NAOMI JACOB, Me—In War-Time (1940)

Rather stiff and preachy wartime entry in Jacob's series of me-centered memoirs.

STORM JAMESON, Journey from the North (1969)

Prominent novelist's autobiography, covering the years of both World Wars.

F. TENNYSON JESSE, London Front: Letters Written to America 1939-1940 (1940)

First of two volumes of Jesse's compiled letters to American friends during the war.

F. TENNYSON JESSE, While London Burns (1942)

Second volume of her letters to American friends.

ZELMA KATIN, 'Clippie': The Autobiography of a War Time Conductress (1944)

Harrowing view of life as a tram conductor during the war.

BARBARA KAYE, The Company We Kept (1986)

Memoir of wartime life with her antiquarian bookseller husband and their many literary friends.

SHEILA KAYE-SMITH, Kitchen Fugue (1945)

Her experiences living in "Bomb Alley" in Sussex during World War II.

MARGARET KENNEDY, Where Stands a Wing├Ęd Sentry (1941)

Popular novelist's memoir (with a bit of "come into the war, America!" propaganda) of life with her family in a village by the coast.

RACHEL KNAPPETT, A Pullet on the Midden (1946)

The author's experiences as a Land Girl.

NELLA LAST, Nella Last's War (1981)

Diary of a middle-aged housewife who found stimulation and challenge in her war work.

NELLA LAST, Nella Last's Peace (2008)

Last's postwar diaries, in which frustration at being forced back into her role as housewife is poignantly expressed.

NELLA LAST, Nella Last in the 1950s (2010)

Final volume of Last's diaries.

MOLLY LEFEBURE, Evidence for the Crown (1954)

Entertaining and sometimes harrowing account of working in the London coroner's office during the war.

ANITA LESLIE, Train to Nowhere (1948)

Her harrowing experiences as an ambulance driver in France.

ANITA LESLIE, A Story Half Told (1983)

Leslie's later memoir, which includes additional recollections of her wartime experiences.

ROSE MACAULAY, Letters to a Sister (1964)

A selection of letters to her sister Jean, including some describing wartime situations.

CECILY MACKWORTH, I Came Out of France (1941)

Compelling and harrowing tale of her escape back to England after the fall of France, keeping barely one step ahead of the Nazi invaders.

ETHEL MANNIN, Brief Voices (1952)

Wartime memoir by the novelist and passionate pacifist.

HILDE MARCHANT, Women and Children Last: A Woman Reporter's Account of the Battle of Britain (1941)

Trail-blazing journalist's account of the Battle of Britain.

HILDE MARCHANT, The Home Front (1942)

Journalist's later reportage on life during wartime.

VERA LAUGHTON MATHEWS, Blue Tapestry (1948)

Memoir of her experiences as director of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) during World War II.

CLARA MILBURN, Mrs. Milburn's Diaries (1979)

Important record of domestic life in Coventry during the war—including the terrible raids on the town and news that her son was M.I.A. after Dunkirk.

CONSTANCE MILES, Mrs. Miles's Diary (2013)

Wartime diary of a "housewife" (who also happens to have written children's books and two novels).

NAOMI MITCHISON, Among You Taking Notes (1985)

Novelist's wartime diaries, which she began as a volunteer for Mass Observation.

KATHARINE MOORE, A Family Life 1939-1945 (1989)

Novelist and scholar's memoir of life in Kent during the war, including her time at a girls' school in the late years of the war.

GWENDA MORGAN, The Diary of a Land Girl, 1939-1945 (2002)

Well-known engraver's diary of her time on a farm outside Petworth.

BESSY MYERS, Captured: My Experiences as an Ambulance Driver and as a Prisoner of the Nazis (1941)

British ambulance driver's recollections of her service in France and her time as a prisoner of war (alone with the likes of Colette).

BARBARA NIXON, Raiders Overhead (1943)

Memoir of the early years of the war by an air raid warden.

EDITH OLIVIER, Night-Thoughts of a Country Landlady (1943)

Novelist's semi-autobiographical musings on wartime life.

EDITH OLIVIER, From Her Journals, 1924-1948 (1989)

Excerpts of her journals, including those from World War II, interspersed with biographical information.

IRIS ORIGO, War in Val d'Orcia (1947)

Prominent biographer's account of living in Italy during World War II, helping refugee children and later escaped Allied prisoners of war.

MOLLIE PANTER-DOWNES, London War Notes 1939-1945 (1971)

Collection of her wartime "Letter from London" pieces from The New Yorker.

FRANCES PARTRIDGE, A Pacifist's War (1978)

First volume of her voluminous diaries, detailing the complications of being, along with her husband Ralph Partridge, a pacifist in wartime.

EVELYN PRENTIS, A Nurse in Action (1978)

The second volume (after A Nurse in Time) of Prentis' memoirs of a life in nursing covers her experiences in London during the war years.

BARBARA PYM, A Very Private Eye (1984)

Pym's diaries, including those written during the war.

HERMIONE RANFURLY, To War with Whitaker: The Wartime Diaries of the Countess of Ranfurly, 1939–1945

WWII diaries about her determination to follow her soldier husband into the Middle East and Africa.

JOAN RICE, Sand in My Shoes: Wartime Diaries of a WAAF (2006)

Rich, humorous wartime diaries by the mother of lyricist Tim Rice.

MOLLY RICH, A Vicarage in the Blitz: The Wartime Letters of Molly Rich 1940-1944 (2010)

Collected wartime letters by the wife of Edward Rich, a prominent vicar.

LYNETTE ROBERTS, Diaries, Letters and Recollections (2008)

Collection of important poet's other writings, including many dealing with her time in rural south Wales during World War II.

DIANA FORBES ROBERTSON, The Battle of Waterloo Road (1941)

Journalistic work focused on a single London neighborhood during the Blitz.

NAOMI ROYDE-SMITH, Outside Information (1941)

Novelist's diary of the tumultuous first months of the war.

VITA SACKVILLE-WEST, Country Notes in Wartime (1941)

A compilation of short pieces on country life and gardening which first appeared in The New Statesman and Nation.

VITA SACKVILLE-WEST, Vita and Harold: The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson (1992)

Includes the prominent couple's letters from the war, when they were often separated due to Nicolson's work in London.

HILDA SILBERMAN, Unimportant Letters of Important Years 1941-1951 (1951)

Silberman's letters to friends during World War II and the years immediately after.

BARBARA SKELTON, Tears Before Bedtime (1987)

Novelist's acclaimed memoir of World War II.

EMMA SMITH, Maidens' Trip (1948)

Novelist's account of working on the canals of England during the war.

MAY SMITH, These Wonderful Rumours!: A Young Schoolteacher's Wartime Diaries 1939-1945 (2012)

Schoolteacher's witty war diaries, telling of life as a teacher in a village near Derby.

NANCY SPAIN, Thank You, Nelson (1945)

Witty memoir of the eccentric novelist's experiences in the W.R.N.S.

FREYA STARK, Dust in the Lion's Paw: Autobiography 1939-1946 (1961)

Travel author's recollections of the war years.

JOYCE STOREY, Joyce's War (1990)

Middle volume of Storey's popular trio of humorous memoirs, covering the war years.

RUBY THOMPSON, World War II London Blitz Diary (2013)

Wartime diaries of an unhappily-married woman who used her diaries as an outlet for her frustrations.


Memoir of her travels as a dancer in wartime Europe.


Includes Warner's letters recording her impressions of the war years.


Novelist's heavily edited but vivid thoughts and reactions to the events of the Blitz and the war in general.

HILARY WAYNE, Two Odd Soldiers (1946)

Details the exploits of the author and her daughter in the ATS during WWII.

DOROTHY WHIPPLE, Random Commentary: Books and Journals Kept from 1925 Onwards (1966)

Charmingly "random" diary recording Whipple's literary success and personal life; the second half or so feature the trials of the war years.

VIRGINIA WOOLF, The Diary of Virginia Woolf: Volume V 1936-1941 (1984)

Final volume of her diary, in which the approach of war and the war itself is frequently mentioned.

VIRGINIA WOOLF, Leave the Letters Till We're Dead: Collected Letters VI 1936-1941 (1980)

Includes Woolf's letters dealing with the war.

SUSAN WOOLFITT, Idle Women (1947)

Account of her experiences as a canal boat worker during World War II.

JOAN WYNDHAM, Love Lessons (1985)

Irrepressible and highly-sexed diaries of a young girl coming of age just as war begins.

JOAN WYNDHAM, Love Is Blue (1986)

The second half of her rather scandalous wartime diaries, covering her times in the WAAF.

JOAN WYNDHAM, Anything Goes (1992)

Volume three of her diaries, continuing her exploits into the postwar years.
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