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May Smith was a young teacher, living with her parents in Swadlincote, Debeyshire, when WWII started. When war began she was twenty four and she was thirty by VE day. I point this out as May's age, her fluctuating weight and her marital status are all of great importance to her throughout these pages. In other words she was a lovely, normal young woman - preoccupied too much with life to worry too much about world events. Although what happens to her throughout her war years obviously are recorded here, this is very much a story of the Home Front and of the way normal people coped with the abormal during that time.

Edited by her son (for whom I thank profusely for making these wonderfully entertaining, witty and fascinating diaries available) May's story begins in December 1938 and ends in 1945. May was a teacher during a time when her class size grew and grew - although miserably her holidays were shortened. She copes with evacuees and often a class twice the size of our national average. Her sarcastic wit (school is described as a "loathesome place") does not allow for too much sentimentality; but it is fair to say that teaching has its plus points if she is threatened with Fire Watching or Munitions work. May often uses capital letters to emphasise words and this works very well, somehow giving May a voice within the text.

Much of her entries relate to the two current men in her life - plus the clergyman who jilted her in the mid 1930's. The two beau's in question are 'Dougie Dear', who lives a fair distance away (you feel thankfully for May!) but provides fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs at intervals throughout the book. There is also the 'Faithful' (sometimes 'Faithless'!) Fred, who accompanies May to the 'flicks', tennis (where he has a rival in a married man May certainly does not encourage) and dances. As well as work, May's preoccupations lie with friends, tennis, English lectures, her love of the movies, books and theatre. She is lively, fun and delightfully brave. When told that invasion is imminent, she finishes outstanding correspondence, in order to be invaded with "a clear conscience". Staunchly patriotic, she nevertheless jokes about German bombers carrying home ariel photographs of Swadlincotes "impregnable defences" and when told that Hitler is planning to drop thousands of men over England in parachutes, she exclaims, "How awful!" and then finishes, "for them, I mean." In other words, despite being bombed on a daily/nightly basis at one point, hearing the "shattering news" of clothes being rationed and having her life turned upside down, she retains both her humour and her humanity.

This is an absolutely delightful account of Britain in wartime which I cannot praise highly enough. Filled with daily accounts of life carrying on regardless, war rumours (all treated with excellent scepticism - you feel Goebbels would have had a hard time convincing May of absolutely anything she was not sure about herself) and 'making do and mend', this is really entertaining, funny and sometimes moving. May often says she doesn't want to hear about the suffering going on around her, but she obviously feels things deeply and cares for her family, friends and neighbours. If you enjoy this, and I am sure you will, you might also like the fictional war diaries Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 (The Bloomsbury Group) and Henrietta Sees It Through (The Bloomsbury Group). Lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and it contained illustrations.
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VINE VOICEon 6 January 2013
May Smith's - 'A Young Schoolteacher's Wartime Diaries' is a wonderfully fresh insight into what it was like to be a young woman during the Second World War. May lived and taught in Swadlincote in Derbyshire at this time and instead of the diary entries being filled with doom, gloom and all the panoply of war, this was a breath of fresh air. We read about her many trips to the pictures, outings to buy clothes (despite the advent of clothing coupons). She always seemed to have too much month left at the end of her money and can't wait for the next pay day. She has a complicated 'love' life dangling two young men at the end of a string, unable to decide which, if any, she prefers. School days appear to be particularly difficult as far as she is concerned, and she comes over at times as being unduly harsh on her pupils - although I don't think this was the intention. During air raids shelter at Granny's house - not that she has an Anderson shelter but they take refuge under the stairs, with sometimes hilarious results. This is a great read, especially for anyone young or old interested in how life was lived by young people during World War 2.
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on 27 December 2012
It's a marvellous feat to make the everyday events of life in wartime Swadlincote so readable. The reader is taken into May Smith's world and shares her experiences. The writer has a natural style that suits her shrewd observations, and a ready wit. We totally understand her predicaments and the challenges she faces, against the background of a war that is coming closer. Her personality is likable; we are with her and on her side!
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on 7 November 2013
The period when the diarist is describing the many air raids is quite revealing as I hadn't realised how regularly sirens went off where she lived in the country. Being an ex class teacher myself I liked her honesty about finding teaching a bit of a drag at times, although I hadn't realised how little holiday schoolchildren had during wartime.I lost interest a little when she was obsessing about her clothing problems and found her attitude towards her two suitors rather annoying, but it was refreshing to hear a different viewpoint of the war.
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on 14 August 2014
Whilst I enjoyed this I can't help thinking it was a bit too 'mediocre' for publication . I'm not knocking May at all here as my own diary is hardly thrilling but she didn't really get up to much so the book became a little boring towards the end and I found myself skipping entries .If it had been fiction the author would have had to add quite a lot more 'scandal' to please readers !

What came across to me was just how resigned people got to the war which is sad in itself .

It has made me very interested in May and her family though . I'd love to know about her marriage to Frederick and I really hope she found true happiness .
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on 24 November 2013
I found this book fascinating, recalling my mother's tales of her war. She was a similar age to May and somehow it brought back her stories. Having spent a lifetime in teaching I found May's diary riveting. She was obviously a feisty character and her words are powerful and humorous. I was sorry to reach the end.
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on 30 July 2015
not the best book I have ever read. The girl writing the diary seems very self-centred, and there is lots of 'dashing' her and there, she seems obsessed with tennis, buying clothes and having her hair done! Quite repetitive, not as good as I had hoped.
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on 30 October 2015
I adore these wartime diaries. This one has been especially entertaining, May Smith is a teacher who seems to dislike the profession and her charges and this alone is fun to read.
The war is there of course, on every page, but the diarists preoccupations are less wordly; finding the right coat, going to the cinema, the size of bus queues, scarcity of chocolate and stockings are themes which arise again and again.
The virtues and shortcomings her family, friends, colleagues and suitors both current and ex take up a lot of space and are a joy to read.
Like or loathe her May Smith is very readable and I am so pleased that her diaries are available - I loved her!
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on 5 March 2014
This was a good read and I found it hard to put down. Very comical in places, the diarist has a gift for wit (and sarcasm!). After the air-raids die down, the war is hardly mentioned except for the occasional momentous event, and life for May continues much as usual. Nevertheless, it gives the reader a good account of life during WWII and how people continued their every-day lives. Whilst not in the Nella Last league, it is an enjoyable read.
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on 9 June 2014
This was disappointing in the extreme. Billed on the front cover as "A young schoolteacher's wartime diaries" it might as well have been "a very shallow girl plays tennis, eats food, two-times a couple of men and hardly mentions the war". We're treated to endless descriptions of hair dressing and tennis matches (at one point I wasn't sure whether "had a good set" referred to hair or tennis). She moans continually about her job (perhaps someone who apparently intensely dislikes children should have found alternative employment). The only connection one feels with the Second World War is her repeated descriptions of air raids. The increasingly blasé treatment of raids by the narrator and everybody else is vaguely interesting.

Her treatment of her two beaux (Freddie and Dougie) is unpleasant. For most of the book Freddie seems to be held in amused contempt as a supplier of cinema tickets, "ices" and sweets (I thought sweets were rationed; something which is never mentioned) while the hapless Dougie is merely a supplier of poultry and fresh vegetables.

All in all the narrator appears to see the Second World War merely as a slight inconvenience - perhaps the point of publishing this was to show the British Public Soldiering On Regardless (yes, I do like her use of capitals), but if so finding a more sympathetic diarist, a more comprehensive Introduction and more copious notes would have been useful.
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