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Domestic Soldiers: Six Women's Lives in the Second World War

Jennifer Purcell

4 Reviews

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Prose: non-fiction, Second World War

The lives of six women on the home front 1939-1945: the true history of what our grandmothers did in the war.

Over 8 million women stayed at home during the Second World War and their story has never been told. Using brand new research from the Mass-Observation Archive, Jennifer Purcell brings to life - in all its tragedy, pathos, joy and fear - the lives of six ordinary women made extraordinary by the demands of war. In their diaries and notes they record the inner thoughts and everyday activities as they tried to survive come what may.

Nella Last, the archetypal housewife struggles between the demands of her husband and her desire to help the war effort. Cambridge-educated, middle-class Natalie Tanner sneaks out to the cinema whenever possible and discusses politics in town, leading a leisured life while others try to scrape by. Saddled with a draughty and unwieldy centuries-old home directly in the path of German bombs, Helen Mitchell constantly tries to escape the war and her domestic life. Opinionated and patriotic Edie Rutherford uses the war to escape the home and go to work. Alice Bridges endures the horrors of the Blitz on her home town of Birmingham and finds a new and exciting social life as she reports the war for Mass-Observation. Housebound for most of the war with debilitating arthritis, working-class Irene Grant struggles to keep her family fed and dreams of a better Britain.

Intensely moving and personal, each woman reveals their most secret fears and hopes, as well as the everyday problems of wanting to contribute to the war effort, keeping a house together under difficult circumstances, the travails of rationing, work and volunteering, whilst maintaining their duties as wife and mother.

Jennifer Purcell redraws a new, emotional and unexpected history of the Second World War as it was experienced by those left behind, the domestic soldiers.

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Praise for Domestic Soldiers: Six Women's Lives in the Second World War

  • Book of the week - Daily Mail

  • The book gives a diverse flavour of experience. - Who Do You Think You Are?

  • This is an enjoyable and rewarding social history of the war. - BBC History Magazine

  • Fascinating read. - Sunday Post

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Jennifer Purcell

Jennifer Purcell has a PhD in Modern British history from Sussex University where she did new research in the lives of the seven women in the book in the Mass Observation Archive. She currently teaches in Vermont, New England.

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