Since quite a few people said they wouldn’t mind hearing more about my research, I thought I’d share the thing that stood out to me today and made me well up a little. For both Under the Hill and Whirlwind Boys (the novel I mean to do next) I’ve been reading up on World War 2. To share a personal story about the war – when I was little, I asked my Dad what the most important thing in his life was. I was hoping, of course, for him to say me, or my mum or his family, but he said “the War.” Then, sensing maybe that I was hurt, he said quickly “not the best. Just the most important.”
It’s only now, really, reading up on it and imagining at second hand what it must have been like that I begin to see what he meant. And it does mean that I tear up easily when I read about the ways that ordinary people seem to have found to remain human in the face of suffering and terror – working and celebrating, being kind, when the world was ending around them, and they were living their lives with an intensity that made everything in peacetime unimportant by comparison.
Anyway, maybe that’s the reason why this brought tears to my eyes. It’s from Dame Vera Lynn’s autobiography, loaned to me by Erastes, which I’m reading both for pleasure and for insight into the spirit of the age:
“…the War Office had expressed concern at the pernicious influence that ‘Lili Marlene’, a German female voice using Lale Anderson’s recording of the song ‘Lili Marlene’ as a signature tune was having on the British troops, who used to tune in to her. Apparently she used to imply that the wives of British serving men were up to all sorts of things in return for black-market butter and meat while their men were away at the front. What was needed was our own patriotic antidote to this, it was felt. Howard could see no point in trying to counter one sexy suggestive voice with another, and thought we should go completely the other way by using me in the role of a believable girl-next-door, big-sister, universal fiancee…
I had the idea of visiting hospitals where servicemen’s wives had just had babies, and conveying the news over the airwaves to Gunner Smith, or whoever, within hours of the event. To be able to say to some poor boy serving out in Burma or North Africa, or somewhere at sea, that I’d actually been to see his wife and that I’d taken her some flowers and talked to her was like getting hold of their hands and putting them together.”
It seems to be the almost unbearable poignancy of little acts of kindness that strikes me again and again. Not at all what I expected to take away from reading about war.