What Amazon says
My Gentle War is the story of a young girl and her family. Ripped away from the home she loved, from her friends, and familiar surroundings, she spends her formative years in the comparative safety of the Welsh Valleys. With the World at War, and her father sent to the battlefields of Europe, her war is fought holding back tears whilst waiting for news of her father, never knowing whether she will see him again. This is the story of a young girl learning to live a new life, holding her family together in unfamiliar surroundings, all the while dreaming of the father that was forced to leave her. My Gentle War is Joy’s story.
My Gentle War is a delightful memoir about the life on a little girl, aged seven years old when war was declared in 1939, and her family as they navigated the changing landscape of everyday life in war time Britain. Joyce’s family lived a middle class life in Dagenham, London when the war started and her father and his brother, Bernard, signed up with the Royal Air Force to go and fight. Joyce’s parents decide that it will be safer for her mother, two younger brothers and herself to go and live with her family in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. The book describes in great detail the difference between her father’s beautifully cultivated garden filled with gorgeous flowers in Dagenham and the wild and lonely beauty of life in the Welsh mountains. Her father’s sadness at having to ruin his garden by building a bomb shelter in the middle of it is the first insight the reader has of the changes that are going to come.
The second insight comes when the author describes the chaos of Paddington Station when her father leaves to go and fight in France and the rest of the family depart for Wales. It is not that easy for an evacuee to fit into life in a rural village, but Joyce and her brothers are young enough to do so without to many problems and, other than one incident when Joyce has a broken glass bottle thrown at her, they all settle into their new life and school. The hard life in Wales is detailed through the memories of the little girl who sees the poverty and learns about the hardship inflicted by the depression prior to the war, on this mining town. The risks of mining are also described through the chronic lung disease suffered by her uncle and the death of a young cousin in the coal mine. The joys of life for children are also expressed with the town arranging concerts staring the children, a picnic and other forms of entertainment. During the early part of the, the bombs do not reach Wales and the food shortages have not as yet bitten.
Throughout the war, Joyce’s family go between places of refuge, initially Wales, and their London home which they return to when her father is home on leave and intermittently while her mother is doing war work in London.
For the last part of the war, Joyce and her brothers become real evacuees are are sent to live with strangers away from London and the buzz bombs. This particular part of this memoir made me realise how fortunate my own mother was during her days growing up in the war. Her family never had to leave their home town of Bungay and were able to stay on their farm throughout the war.
I really enjoyed this memoir which reads like a conversation and tells of life for Joyce and her mother and siblings in Britain and also tells of some of her father’s experiences of the war in France, including the lead up to the evacuation of Dunkirk, through extracts of his diary and letters home. For people who are interested in World War II and particularly every day life for people during this terrible time, this is a wonderful and eye opening book.
Purchase My Gentle War (Memoir of an Essex Girl)