Nella Last's War: A Mother's Diary, 1939-45

Nella Last's War: A Mother's Diary, 1939-45 In September , Housewife And Mother Nella Last Began A Diary Whose Entries, In Their Regularity, Length And Quality, Have Created A Record Of The Second World War Which Is Powerful, Fascinating And Unique When War Broke Out, Nella S Younger Son Joined The Army While The Rest Of The Family Tried To Adapt To Civilian Life Writing Each Day For The Mass Observation Project, Nella, A Middle Aged Housewife From The Bombed Town Of Barrow, Shows What People Really Felt During This Time This Was The Period In Which She Turned , Saw Her Children Leave Home, And Reviewed Her Life And Her Marriage Which She Eventually Compares To Slavery Her Growing Confidence As A Result Of Her War Work Makes This A Moving Though Often Comic Testimony, Which, Covering Sex, Death And Fear Of Invasion, Provides A New, Unglamorised, Female Perspective On The War Years For Example, Nella Writes Next To Being A Mother, I D Have Loved To Write Books Oct ,

Nella Last was a wife and mother who wrote up her day to day experience of civilian life in the Second World War as part of the Mass Observation Archive, which was set up by sociologist Charles Madge and anthropologist Tom Harrisson to record ordinary people s views on contemporary events She was an intelligent woman, who was stifled by her life and repressive marriage in a provincial place Fort

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  • Paperback
  • 312 pages
  • Nella Last's War: A Mother's Diary, 1939-45
  • Nella Last
  • English
  • 05 May 2018
  • 9781846680007

10 thoughts on “Nella Last's War: A Mother's Diary, 1939-45

  1. says:

    Most of us very much enjoyed this book There were many dimensions to it, and different dimensions appealed particularly to different people.One was that of her relationship with her husband It is a remarkable record of a woman living in close proximity with a husband for whom she felt, if you believe her, nothing other than resentment The ebb and flow of their daily exchanges is carefully charted, and her relief at being able to sleep in a separate room It is funny, sad and very honest According to her internal narrative of her life, his lack of support plus the disapproval of his family had caused her to have a breakdown She even drew a comparison between her subjection and political subjection He had been an aggressor, perhaps not unlike Hitler, and she had colluded in her subjection Her extensive voluntary work during the War, plus perhaps the process of reflection encouraged by the diary writing, had allowed her to break away from her slavery , and this had led to her being held up as an example of a proto feminist.Similarly there is the close up view of her relationship with her two sons Particularly early on in the book, it is clear that the relationship with her sons was providing her with the affection denied in her marriage That with Cliff, the son who went to war, was particularly intense Cliff s signet ring was pushed on to my third finger , and it soon becomes apparent to the modern reader that Cliff must be homosexual Although the family is introduced to his very close friend , who is later killed in the war, Cliff is unable to come out Nor do his parents suspect This appears to be a considerable tragedy of misunderstanding, one that must have been repeated many times in the era Cliff goes off abroad at the end of the War to become a sculptor in Australia, and only returns for a period when his parents are near death.We were struck and surprised by the fact that Nella did not self censor her diaries in the way that most people of her generation would have done Perhaps she was unaware that they would ever be published Or did it fit with her personality not to care what people would think if she by that time would be dead The War itself, as experienced on the Home Front, intrigued most of us True, there was little new in the way of factual information about what happened, but for most of us it was new to get a sense of how it felt to live through that period One surprise was how little celebration and what a sense of anti climax there was on VE and VJ Days I opened a tin of pears.It was intriguing to watch how easily she could move from the mundane to the philosophical and back again Her thoughts on the discovery of Belsen show both her capacity for empathy and for a sophistication of thought surprising in a largely self taught woman from Barrow.There was unanimity in applauding Nella s prose style, for example The garden is wakening rapidly, and I can see signs of blossom buds on my three little apple trees A blackbird seems to be building nearby she has been busy with straw all day today and now the old tree at the bottom of the next door garden shows buds against the blue sky My husband had a night off work and said he really must get another row of peas and potatoes in The moon swam slim serene among the one way pointing, silvered barrage balloons I thought it dreadful when I once saw a Zeppelin against the moon As I stood gazing up at the sky, I wondered if she had ever looked on so strange a sky occupant before I do so dread these next few nights till the full moon Tonight, with a slim crescent, it was clear and bright Some poor city will suffer So Nella Last, creative, witty, altruistic, energetic, beautiful writer, enchained by a man a downtrodden Saint Well, not for all A minority voice did not entirely take to Nella as a person while still very keen on the book Always a victim, always right Insecurely recording every compliment A rather spiky person, disparaging her colleagues and look at the Ena Sharples body language in some of the photos No wonder her husband kept taking her off to the Lake District to calm her down Good at empathising with people in other countries, indeed, but no empathy whatsoever with her husband, and no understanding of her favourite son when he comes back shot in the groin This is an extract from a review at Our reviews are also to be found at

  2. says:

    I loved this book, and Nella It s the wartime Mass Observation diaries of Nella Last, Housewife, 49 of Barrow in Furness I ve read other similar diaries, most notably the ones in Our Hidden Lives, and they are interesting, but none has captivated me as this book did.She starts out cautiously but is soon using the diaries as a safety valve to express her frustrations with life She writes beautifully and naturally, but what s most interesting is the way she changes as the war progresses At the beginning she is sickly and weak, plagued with arthritis, and refers to a breakdown she had a few years before But she determines to do something for the war effort and joins the WVS From there she goes from strength to strength, and the evolution of her ideas is fascinating she comes to see her conventional marriage to an old stick of a husband as slavery She s also very observant and perceptive of the people around her.She had me hooked on page 20, when she writes Mr Murphy, her cat is not anything to look at, and is not too particular about keeping his white bits as clean as he could, but he has a kind and thoughtful nature for a cat kind and thoughtful are such inappropriate adjectives for a cat, but it shows she knows him But she also writes lyrically of walks home by moonlight, trips out to the countryside at Coniston Water, the stresses of the blitz, the challenges of getting palatable meals on the table every day, and everyday squabbles and power games at the WVS She has a truly open mind, always questioning and wondering what the future holds for her sons and the other young people she knows.I don t want to say too much about it just read it It s one of those books where you long to meet the author she really does seem like someone you know and admire Next to being a mother, I d have loved to write books, she wrote If only she knew how much pleasure and enlightenment people would get from her scribblings 60 years later.

  3. says:

    3.5 stars because diaries are hard to rate This was my bedtime reading for the last couple of weeks, a few entries at a time A very good day to day description of the war on the home front in England, with all the shortages of food and gas, and the bombing raids and blackouts, the best part for me was Nella s growth inside, realizing in her 50 s that she had talents and worth than just being a wife and mother Her volunteer work running a thrift shop and canteen gave her a chance to be useful, and to realize that her organizational skills and business sense were of worth to her community and country And, always important with me, she had a sense of humor.

  4. says:

    I bought this book about 3 years ago and have read it at least 6 times We are told that Mrs Last wrote literally millions of words for Mass Observation in the course of 30 years it s a bit disappointing then for avid readers of journals, diaries and correspondence like myself to be offered such a tantalising taste of her prolific output Maybe 100 years from now she will be called the 20th Century Pepys and perhaps in another 200 years, complete editions will be published Unfortunately I won t be there to read them This is a vivid account of ordinary people in the war years and the years immediately following in Nella Last s Peace Unfortunately for me, the editors emphasis was on rationing etc understandable, but I feel there was so much to her life than just food, that was left out Oh how I wished that her recipe notebook that she shared with the WVS canteen cooks had been preserved In the movie Housewife, 49 her husband Arthur is painted as a selfish, ignorant, coldhearted monster who cannot see his wife s suffering The true account is much balanced Yes, Mr Last is self centred, expecting his wife to be there when he comes home, with his slippers warmed and his tea waiting but this was true of a good 90% of English, European and indeed American husbands of the time, particularly small town men who had been married since the turn of the century My father married my mother in 1940, and he was certainly just like that But Arthur Last makes sure Nella has household help whenever it can be obtained, tells her to do what s best for herself in every way p125 and repeatedly shows his appreciation of the comfortable home and nutritious, tasty meals she provides He even lets her spend money on a stack of quality writing pads a luxury in wartime and sends the doctor round for a cup of tea while he s at work to make sure she is all right p 75.We also learn from the diaries that Mrs Last had a history of chronic illness, many operations which left her with arthritis, and a couple of breakdowns perhaps not the easiest person in the world to live with From personal experience I know that chronic pain and depression can make us magnify small things out of proportion and imagine intentional slights at every turn Nella seems to be unaware of her son s sexuality at the beginning of the diary, though by the end she seems to have grown a bit wiser however in the Introduction, Cliff Last seems to believe that she never knew the truth Perhaps it was easier not to admit what was before her she wouldn t be the first mother who chose denial over inconvenient truth.An excellent read, which evokes the time and situation as only a true life account can Mrs Last saw herself as an uneducated, dim woman What a shame she never got further education, so we could enjoy the books that might have flowed from her pen I wish there were available to her public, even in blog form.

  5. says:

    Diary of a Barrow in Furness housewife starting on the breakout of WWII and going through until VJ Day, setting out her daily actions and thoughts for the Mass Observation Project a project involving 500 volunteers Nella is upper middle class married to a timid and conservative husband and with two boys Arthur a civil servant posted to Ireland and Cliff a thoughtful artistic type who nevertheless volunteers to fight in the Middle East The book is a fascinating and at times compelling read, mainly for its sheer authenticity and is fairly well edited although could perhaps have been a little shorter Nella is both horrified by the war the book captures well the sheer horror of being bombed, of the complete absence of even the briefest care free period, the deprivations and concessions in civilian life, the sudden loss of sons and husbands either posted abroad or even worse missing in action and at the same time finds freedom and for the first time except in the bringing up of her boys a sense of purpose bordering on obsession in being a WVS member, knitting and making things to raise money running a charity shop and running a shift at a canteen Nella is particularly perceptive she is haunted by nightmares of sailors being drowned and soldiers dying and that drives her work unlike many others she realises very quickly that the war is not only to be a long one but that it will leave a Europe shattered although she is over pessimistic at the hatred that will be left in the German people and at one point laughs at the idea that in 20 years Germany will be our ally and Russia our enemy she reflects often on the changes that the war will force in the relationships between the sexes with women being unwilling to return to the servitude of being a housewife and generations with the younger generation basically feeling they can t make a worse mess than two World Wars while perhaps being caught by surprise by the change in relationship between classes which emerges with Labour s to her shock election victory.

  6. says:

    I don t know why I love memoirs so much It doesn t seem quite right that I should get so much enjoyment out of reading other people s diaries I don t think I ll pursue that line of thought any further though because, well, just because This is a diary and I loved it And it turns out, she had a talent for writing, one reason why you ll enjoy reading it.It is the diary of an ordinary housewife, Nella Last, in a small town in England, and it covers the time period between September 1939 and August 1945 Nella was 49 when the war started She had a husband and two sons, one of whom had already left home to embark on a career The younger son joined the armed services and was in uniform for the duration of the war Nella s diary is full of stories about her family, her marriage, her volunteer work and the difficulties of day to day life with blackout curtains, rationing and enemy bombers flying overhead.There are numerous movies out there that tell us what war is like from the viewpoint of the soldiers fighting it this book shows us what it s like for regular people trying to carry on a life while war rages around them Gas for recreational use was cut off and they couldn t go anywhere except by bus Rationing became severe in the last years of the war, so they tried to grow things like onions and tomatoes that they couldn t get at a grocery store Nella tore up the lawn to keep hens so they would have eggs.For months at a time air raid sirens would sound in the night and bombers would drop their deadly loads on Nella s town, sometimes on her street At times they slept in their clothes so they could get to their shelter quickly if need be and sometimes they even went to bed in the shelter I often wonder how they could keep going with life the way it was, but I guess it s what we all do We say we can t take any, then we put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.Her soldier son, Cliff, was on her mind all the time She didn t always know where he was and long periods of time would go by in which she wouldn t hear from him She wrote regularly but had no way of knowing if he was receiving her letters.Nella was a creative woman and managed to get everyone fed and looked after with very little money or access to fresh food It was both interesting and inspiring to learn some of the economies she practiced and how she made do with what she had She used those skills in several volunteer services helping to raise money for prisoners of war boxes and providing food and endless cups of tea for tired, lonely soldiers.In some ways Nella found herself during those awful years She became independent, less afraid of speaking her mind She knew she was changing and was glad of it, even when her husband and sons were not This was the second war for her her children were babies during the first war I hadn t thought of it before, but there were only 21 years between the end of the first world war and the start of the second Middle aged people around the world were enduring their second round of hell Nella has a lot to teach us about perseverance I admire her and her work ethic, her sense of humor and her loyalty to her family She was always a strong woman, but it took the war to help her realize it I ve seen another book called Nella Last s Peace, which takes place in the years immediately following WWll I hope I ll be able to find it I d love to read about how they gathered up the pieces of their lives and tried to make something normal from them again.The story isn t all hardship and grief There are funny things such as happen in every normal day to day life People change and grow and times marches on even during war years Laughter is engaged in where ever it can be found and it s value is understood.I was continually struck by the way ordinary things seeped into war and how war seeped into ordinary things Like in the following passage Another disturbed night The guns and bombs were so bad on Merseyside that our windows and doors rattled I called in at the grocer s to see if any marmalade had come in I prefer it to jam Bombs and marmalade had become equally commonplace and required no pause or change in direction for the conversation.I recommend Nella Last s War to everyone It s an eyeopener, a fascinating historical account and overall a great read.

  7. says:

    This was a wonderful surprise of a book and I grew to love Nella Thank you, Jennifer, for introducing us This was her choice for our postal book group.How amazing it is to read a first hand account of what it was like to live in England during WWII Her perspective is as a mom, wife, and homemaker in a small town Her ability to cope with little money and resources is inspiring Her humor, determination, fear, spunkiness, love and frustrations are all conveyed in her diary There are two volumes that I must check out And there is a movie called Housewife, 49 I copied many passages and probably should have bought my own copy Here is just one entry of many that I loved It is regarding her indignation when she find out London does not have bomb shelters.October 4, 1940 My bee buzzes so loudly that I feel I want to DO SOMETHING After all these peaceful years, I discover I ve a militant suffragette streak in me, and I could shout loudly and break windows and do all kinds of things kick policemen perhaps ANYTHING to protest Nella is a wonderful person You should meet her

  8. says:

    I found this book absolutely fascinating I happened to see the movie based on it Housewife, 49 first, since my local library had that and had to wait a while on the book, and the book was much better as is so often the case For whatever reason I m quite interested in what it was like for people living on the Home Front in WWII England I ve read fiction set then, but after seeing 1940s House I really wanted to track down real accounts of that time This diary, kept by Nella Last throughout the war, definitely provided the type of information I was seeking We find out what daily life was like what it was like to prepare meals with food rationing on, to sleep in a shelter in the livign room and also what everyone did to help with the war effort, whether it be joining up or running a Red Cross shop to fund care packages for POWs It was quite sad at times, but overall I found it riveting.

  9. says:

    There are many books out there that give us a perspective of World War II from the point of view of those fighting on the front lines, in the resistance and from Whitehall, but there are very view that show us what living through this war was like from the viewpoint of the civilian at home In 1937, the Mass Observation Project in England was founded by Charles Madge and Tom Harrisson They wanted to record the views of ordinary British people, and recruited volunteers to observe British life, and diarists to record a day to day account of their lives These archives now give a unique insight into the lives of British civilians who found themselves going through a period when their country was at war Nella Last is one of these diarists and, far from giving the reader an uncomfortable feeling of reading something private, it opens up a world that few could have imagined existed during these austere times The writer is an ordinary small town English housewife, and her diary covers the period of time from the outbreak of war in September 1939 through to August 1945, although she did keep contributing to the project until 1965 Housewife 49, refers to how she headed her first entry her occupation Housewife, her age 49 Nella and her Family lived in Barrow in Furness in the North of England, which at the time was a shipbuilding town This meant that during the Barrow Blitz in April and May of 1941, it became a heavy target for German bombing This was a period when families were separated, and sometimes coping with the loss of a family member Cities were being bombed, and housewives such as Nella had to find new ingenious ways to keep their homes together This remarkable account depicts clearly what it was like for ordinary families living through World War Two.The diary itself plays two different roles in our understanding of what it was like to live in these times, as it clearly seen that she writes about two distinct areas of her life Family, friends and the role of women which are the personal side of the diaries and the other area which reveals Nella s opinions of public events such as the early war years, and the Barrow Blitz I mentioned above.Nella s diary is full of stories about her family, her marriage, her volunteer work and the difficulties of day to day life with blackout curtains, rationing and enemy bombers flying overhead Gas for recreational use was cut off and they couldn t go anywhere except by bus, a task many of us would balk at today Rationing became severe in the last years of the war, so they tried to grow things like onions and tomatoes that were not available at the grocery store they were registered with, and Nella actually tore up their lawn to keep hens so they would have than the 1 egg per week that rationing would allow Air raids sirens were a nightly occurrence meaning the Family, at times, slept in their clothes so they could get to their shelter quickly if need be and sometimes they even went to bed in the shelter Reading this diary brought back to mind when my Grandma would tell me about living in Leeds, Yorkshire during the war the air raids, trying to raise three young children while her Husband was away and, when I asked her how she managed she would tell me it was their way of making sure the Germans didn t win on the home front, they picked themselves up and kept on going.The diary isn t all just hardship and grief, however, there are funny things such as happen in normal day to day life and Nella is very adept in conveying how much the value of laughter was cherished during these times Something that will strike most readers of the diary is how the war and everyday life bled into each other as Nella writes about an air raid and marmalade in the same entry without a change in direction The reader also sees how Nella grows from being the stereotypical Housewife of the day to being her own woman, something neither her Husband or sons were very keen on.Apart from being an excellent historical record of the time, this diary serves to show us just how reliant on technology with have become as a society We have moved away from the self reliance needed to get us through hard times, and lost our compassion for others in need It made me wonder how many people that read the diary would be able to successful grow their own food and cope with the constant stress and tension the nightly bombings brought with them.I highly recommend not only Nella Last s War to everyone, but also the remaining two books of her diaries Alone this is a learning experience, and a possible eye opener for the isolated of us out there but when combined with the other two books it becomes something everyone should read, and hopefully learn from.Originally reviewed on This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

  10. says:

    Nella Last took part in the Mass Observation Project during World War II, a groundbreaking program in which British people were asked to maintain diaries discussing their daily experiences She wrote diligently for than thirty eventful years Nella Last s War concentrates on 1939 1945 and in doing so focuses on a woman blossoming, starting at the age of 49, into an independent, free thinking spirit.The War offered Nella a chance to do useful work that made a difference in the world the closing pages of the book show a bit of melancholy as her world threatens to become smaller again, limited to knitting in the living room and only going where her husband wishes to go Watching Nella deal with her newfound independence and, delightfully, putting her foot down with regard to her personal space and happiness, is interesting in the extreme I was also fascinated at how she was able to make do with so little, and how impatient she became with those who whined about their problems while others lost homes, family members and lives.Nella is funny, intelligent, resourceful and kind She would have been a marvelous friend to turn to in times both good and bad Thanks to the evocative way in which she writes about her home, her family and her beloved Lake District, I feel as if I were there with her She often says I am not smart I fervently disagree she may not have realized her own intelligence, but it shows bright and beautiful on every page of Nella Last s War.

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