“We Are at War: The Diaries of Five Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times” Simon Garfield
Chronologically, this is the first of a trilogy of books* containing a collection of diaries written for the Mass Observation social research organisation in Great Britain. Mass Observation was founded in 1937 with the aim of studying everyday life in Britain. A panel of ordinary people was recruited, and asked to respond to questionnaires about their life, and to keep diaries recording their daily life and activities as often and as fully as possible. Simon Garfield has compiled and edited the diaries of five members of the panel for this book, which covers the period from just before the start of the Second World War to October 1940, when the blitz was underway.
The second book “Private Battles: How The War Almost Defeated Us” covers the period from November 1940 to VE Day, 8th May 1945, and the third “Our Hidden Lives: The Remarkable Diaries of Post-war Britain” covers the period from just before VE Day to the birth of the NHS in 1948.
I have read all three of these books now, and have found them all absolutely fascinating. All five of the diaries included in this volume are interesting, but the entries by Maggie Joy Blunt are particularly engaging as she has excellent powers of observation, and writes very well. She is also the only diarist who is included in each of the three volumes. I can’t recommend these books highly enough. If you are interested in the Second World War, social history, or just the diaries of ordinary people, then you really should read these books if you haven’t already.
* The books weren’t published in chronological order. “Hidden Lives” was published first, “We Are at War” second, and “Private Battles” third, but now they have all been published I recommend reading them in chronological order. You can find more information about the books, and Mass Observation, on Simon Garfield’s website.