on 20 July 2007
In a time when families were being ripped apart, friends and their children were being killed and you didn't know what the future would bring Nella Last detailed every emotional day. My heart went out to her and women like her, who must have wondered what was happening to the world. Apart from detailing everything from recipes, shopping lists and her work at the centre and shop, it tells us of her hopes for future generations, how her heart goes out to other nationalities including the german mothers who were loosing their sons too. She has a modern mind, quite the opposite of what you would think of a 50 year old woman in the early 1940's. Non judgemental and always looking on the bright side despite her own personal battle with nerves and a domineering husband.
She is an inspiration to modern women, how well would we cope in the same austerity and daily horror?
on 24 January 2007
Having seen Victoria Wood's wonderful period drama last year, Father Christmas heard my request and kindly brought me the book.
I have deliberately taken several weeks to read it because I wanted to savour and enjoy it to the full.
We are so lucky that Nella Last decided to join the Mass Observation Project as she had a natural talent for writing about the everyday "nitty gritty" of the war years. Even though most of us will have heard stories from parents and grandparents about life in the war, inevitably they will be dominated by what the men did. This is wartime life on a daily basis as seen through the eyes of a middle-aged woman who happily writes about everything - shopping, cooking, worrying about her sons, her health, her inexhaustible wish to "do something", sleep deprivation, sex (yes, sex!) - it's all there. Obviously the MOP sent out questionnaires from time to time requesting particular information, but Nella uses her diary to chronicle her innermost thoughts with a very heavy emphasis on her marriage, her undying love for her boys and especially "a woman's lot". She could see that when the war was over (assuming that Germany did not win) life would be very different for young women about to embark on marriage. They would not be happy to spend their entire life fitting everything in around their husband's wishes and needs and she was very envious of this.
She does not give many details regarding her life before the Second World War but it is very easy to read between the lines and realise that her bouts of ill health and depression were obviously very strongly linked to a dominent and domineering husband and in-laws.
However, the war is the making of Nella as she demonstrates again and again her various artistic talents, her inexhaustible energy and her undying positive and optimistic spirit - at least when other people are present.
I loved this book so much for its honesty, detail and courage and was so very sad when I reached the end. I bought it as a birthday present for one friend and have lent my copy to another, by the time I get it back I will probably read it again!
on 26 February 2008
I can only add to the unalloyed praise of others and wish that Nella Last could know what pleasure and enlightenment her "scribbling" would bring to others over 60 years later.
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 writes lyrically of walks home by moonlight, and trips out to the countryside at Coniston Water, but also of 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.
on 29 July 2007
Without a doubt this has got to be one of the most wonderful, thought provoking, emotional yet rewarding books I've ever read. There wasn't a single part of this book I didn't like, I wanted to savour every bit of it. Nella Last is someone who I came to greatly admire. She was resourceful, kind, helpful and very sensitive and thoughtful.
She always strived to do the best by her family and look after others - and despite her own nerves, depression and anxiety she did a sterling job. I felt such empathy with her when she described her anxieties, her tears and her down days - even though our experiences are poles and decades apart - nothing really changes in the human psyche.
I loved her vivid descriptions of the food she cooked, how she scrimped and saved and put by and still managed to create all these nourishing meals so that her husband and her sons didn't go hungry. How she found time to do all she did is a mystery, but she did it and it was people like her that kept our country going.
I'm really sorry to have finished the book and not have any more of it to read such was the quality of the writing. I felt as though I knew all the family, and was party to so many secrets.
I can't really find enough superlatives to describe it - a required read for anyone interested in history or anything to do with the Wars. Nella's beautifully honed prose is a delight to read, and something that Victoria Wood also captured beautifully in her reworking of the diary for TV.
on 3 July 2007
This incredible woman achieved so much during the second world war, her and many other woman faced their men folk being lost at war, surviving on rations, keeping body and soul together during air raids and trying to do their bit.
This book brought tears, admiration and I have to say a bit of shame - if I could do half the things that Nella did I would be happy.
This is a wonderful book - wholly recommended. It gives you another side to war, when you think of war you think of men dying and destruction, this book shows how women coped during their darkest hours and how they rallied round in times of need.
on 8 January 2007
What a truly amazing book, I was transfixed from start to finish. I feel I have actually got to know Nella through the book and would absolutely love to have read more of her diary and it is a tragedy that it was lost. She writes so well with such rich prose and descritions and yet does not seem to think that she has any literary talent at all!
I felt so much for her, she was such a caged bird who longed to see so much more, I would have loved to know if she ever made it to Australia to see Cliff. I was saddened when I read that she had slipped into senility at the end but she was so highly strung in some ways I suppose it was always a danger.
She is an inspiration, a true embodiment of the Blitz spirit and it was through her and others like her that the war was won. She is rarely judgemental and always thinks of the mothers and the boys separated by war.
I can't recommend this book highly enough, it has made me think about things in lots of different ways - ie my place in society at as thirty something woman today and how much the sexual revolution changed things. Brilliant - absolutely brilliant.
Like many other reviewers here, I bought this book having enjoyed the TV dramatisation so much. I was not disappointed! There is a great deal to enjoy as the diaries give so much detail about many different aspects of life during the Second World War. Nella's growing awareness of her own abilities and her increased self-confidence as she has to tackle new challenges are an indication of the changes in women's lives that would eventually surface during the following decades. She speaks to us so directly through these diaries, that you feel totally involved in her experiences. She also displays humour and perception, and I was sorry to come to the end of the book.
I write this in late 2008 as the global financial system goes into meltdown and the credit crunch is really biting into our individual pockets. What Nella Last would make of our sickeningly materialistic, wasteful, 'spend spend spend' times I cannot imagine!
On a domestic level we could all learn a lot from Nella's money-saving, waste-avoiding methods. Her descriptions of the meals she contrives are fascinating, and her make-do-and-mend philosophy would put us all to shame.
Aside from the domestic detail, Nella writes movingly about her thoughts and feelings as a wife and mother living through a second war, and especially about the changing role of women and her own sense of liberation through war work.
This should be be required reading for everyone lucky enough to have grown up in times of peace and plenty.
on 4 December 2009
I bought this book as I was born during the war in Barrow-in-Furness and have many memories of the life in the war years.I wanted to know if my memories were the same as for other people.
I loved this book. It tells a very different story from the books written about the war from a strategic viewpoint. It is the real, very basic, down to earth life of families trying to manage on very little during a time when their concern was mostly for their soldier men away fighting.
Although Nella Last was obviously from a better part of town than I was she tells of life the way I remember it. The use of coupons for so many everyday items and, even with coupons, not being able to find items and having to queu for hours for basic things.
Like many women Nella also did an amazing amount of voluntary work with the WVS and Red cross during these years.Later, when the men came home they had real problems trying to go back to their old lives. This war certainly showed that the women of Barrow were made of sterling stuff.
This is a book that I really enjoyed. Nella Last is an ordinary housewife aged 49 in the second world war, and it is the story of her everyday life, and how the war affected it, and how she coped. I have total admiration for the people who lived through world wars, in whatever capacity, whether military or civilian. I think that we really don't appreciate their efforts enough, and speaking for myself, I really don't know very much about what it was like in war-time, other than what I have read or seen on tv. I empathised with her so much when her boys went to do their military service, and she tried to keep a 'stiff upper lip' while quietly breaking her heart. I loved the fact that she didn't just allow herself to be dominated by her husband, that she found her niche in the shop and the canteen, and she never lost sight of what she thought was important. These people went through so much, yet never lost their sense of humour, or their ability to make the best of a very bad situation. It is a great read, and a marvellous insight into the British personality, I feel. I wonder how Nella Last would feel, knowing that her 'scribblings' as she called them, were being read avidly 60 years after the war, and appreciated and enjoyed by people whose lives would be so altered had the outcome of that war been different.